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NDSU Extension Service, Published July 27 2012

Rabies pose risk to livestock, pets

FARGO - North Dakota State University livestock specialists are warning producers and others to be on the lookout for rabid animals and to get their animals vaccinated against rabies.

"The increased number of skunk sightings, particularly in the daytime, has made us all the more aware of the increased risk of rabies exposure to both pets and livestock," says Gerald Stokka, associate professor of livestock stewardship.

Skunks are the No. 1 source of the rabies virus in wildlife populations. All mammals are susceptible to rabies virus infection, and the infection essentially is 100 percent fatal.

The rabies virus is spread by animals carrying the virus in their saliva, according to Charlie Stoltenow, NDSU Extension Service veterinarian. The disease usually is transmitted to other animals or humans via bite wounds. The virus travels along the nerve fibers and ultimately reaches the brain, where it replicates. Those who have been infected develop symptoms of a central nervous system disorder.

Recently a family in rural North Dakota became exposed to rabies through handling and caring for an 8-week-old kitten. A family member "rescued" this kitten after finding it had been mauled by an unknown animal.

The kitten appeared to be doing well for about three weeks, then its behavior began to change. The animal became more excitable and vocal, and ultimately more aggressive, during about a three-day period. The family suspected rabies and had the kitten euthanized humanely. The kitten's brain was submitted to the NDSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for rabies testing.

The results were positive for rabies virus and the family had to undergo immunoglobulin (antibody) injections as well as a series of four rabies virus vaccinations.

"This whole situation could have been avoided had the young, unvaccinated kitten been euthanized immediately upon discovery," Stokka says. "As stewards of all animals under our care, we have a responsibility to ourselves, to livestock and pets to decrease the risk of exposure to rabies.

"Rabies vaccination is highly effective," he adds. "The vaccination of pets and, in some cases confined animals such a show animals, is our responsibility. Unvaccinated animals are at risk for exposure to rabies-carrying wildlife, primarily the skunk and the raccoon. Any wildlife, such as skunks, demonstrating unusual behavior during daylight hours must be interpreted as abnormal and eliminated as a potential risk."