Colorado State University veterinarians are recommending that livestock and horses be vaccinated for rabies due to an increased number of infected skunks in the state.
“While livestock or horses contracting rabies is still uncommon in Colorado, it is extremely important – now more than ever – to work to prevent animals from contracting the disease,” said Dr. Bruce Connally, a veterinarian with the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s equine section. “It’s important because, if an animal is exposed to rabies, the symptoms can be difficult to distinguish from other illnesses, and, while it is being diagnosed, the animal and people exposed to it are at risk of contracting the disease.”
While bats have spread rabies in Colorado for many years, rabies spread through other wildlife has typically been more common in Eastern states. Over the last several years, more skunks in Colorado have become infected, which has resulted in an increased infection rate and risk of infection to livestock and horses. This is due in part to habitat changes and human movement of wild animals that spread the disease into areas previously uninfected.
Clinicians at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, now recommend horses and livestock, particularly pet livestock such as llamas and alpacas, be vaccinated once a year. They also recommend vaccination of commercial production livestock in locations where there is high skunk activity. Companion pet owners are urged to vaccinate their cats and dogs as all warm-blooded animals, including humans, can be infected with rabies.
Wounds from a rabid skunk bite may not be visible or easy to detect on livestock or horses, and symptoms of rabies mimic other more common illnesses and can be confused with regular colic or a foot or leg injury. Rabies also can enter the body through cuts or scratches. Rabies can be spread to people through contact with saliva or bodily fluids.
“A rabies bite to an animal that has not been vaccinated is invariably fatal,” Dr. Connally said. “The animals – horses and livestock – will die. If you value them, invest in a vaccine.”
Signs of rabies in animals include:
- Changed or altered behavior, including depression
- Acting nervous or agitated
- Vicious, unprovoked attacks
- Excessive salivation and difficulty swallowing
- Roaming or separation from the herd
- Unusual sexual activity
- Abnormal vocalizations
- Ascending paralysis, normally beginning in the hind limbs
- Signs of colic
- Self mutilation
- Sensitivity to light
Vaccines range in price for different animals. Cattle vaccines, which are also used for camelids (llamas and alpacas), are available for less than $5 each, and horse vaccines range from $10 to $15, depending upon the number of animals vaccinated. Rabies vaccinations last for a year.
If you believe your animal has been exposed to rabies, or possibly bitten by a rabid animal, immediately contact your veterinarian. For information on human rabies illness, see www.cdc.gov
. For information on what to do if you have been bit by an unvaccinated animal or suspect you have otherwise been exposed to rabies, call your local health department.