The Colorado Departments of Agriculture and Public Health and Environment, in collaboration with Tri-County Health Department, have confirmed that a miniature horse in Adams county has tested positive for rabies. This is the second case of rabies in domestic livestock in Colorado this year; the first case was a mule in January in Eagle County. Before this year, the last equine rabies case in Colorado was documented in 2013.
Shortly after the miniature horse was euthanized, a skunk acting strangely was found and euthanized on the premises and also tested positive.
Rabies can spread from wild animals such as bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes to other mammals, including domestic pets and livestock. One of the greatest risks of exposure to rabies virus for people is through contact with rabid domestic pets or livestock.
“This incident highlights the need for two important things - reporting suspect rabies cases and up-to-date vaccinations. Prompt reporting of suspect cases allows for timely diagnosis and appropriate follow-up measures to protect animal and human health,” said State Veterinarian Dr. Maggie Baldwin. “Vaccinating pets and livestock is the single best method to prevent the disease which is fatal in nearly 100% of the cases.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provides statewide rabies surveillance data. Please visit their website for current rabies case information.
Rabies is a viral disease in mammals that infects the brain. Rabies symptoms typically fall into two types: “aggressive” and “dumb.” Animals with aggressive rabies are combative and have unusually aggressive behavior such as excessive biting. In the “dumb” form of the disease, the animal is lethargic, weak in one or more limbs, and unable to raise its head or make sounds because its throat and neck muscles are paralyzed. However, there have been cases of rabid animals that are not acting obviously abnormal, so suspicion of rabies should not be limited to animals showing classic symptoms.
Rabies is spread primarily by saliva through the bite of a rabid animal. Once symptoms of rabies infection appear, there is no cure and the infection is fatal. People who have been exposed to rabies can receive medication treatment to prevent illness. For pets and livestock, routine rabies vaccination is the best way to protect animals from infection. Animal vaccination regimens vary, so livestock and pet owners are urged to discuss the vaccines with their local veterinarian. Pet vaccination is also required in many jurisdictions for licensure.
All species of livestock are susceptible to rabies; cattle and horses are the most frequently reported infected livestock species. All horses should be considered for vaccination against rabies. Rabies is considered one of the core equine vaccinations in the AAEP guidelines. Livestock that have frequent contact with humans (e.g. in petting zoos, fairs, agrotourism, and other public exhibitions) should be considered for vaccination against rabies, including species for which licensed vaccines are not available (extra-label use). Consideration should also be given to vaccinating livestock that are particularly valuable.
In addition to ensuring that pets and livestock are vaccinated properly against rabies, the following preventative steps are also recommended:
- Be aware of skunks out during the day. This is abnormal behavior and these animals should be avoided.
- Be aware and limit areas that can be suitable habitat for skunks such as dark holes, under buildings, and under equipment.
- Do not feed wild animals or allow your pets around them. Avoid leaving pet food outside as that may attract a wild animal.
- Teach children to stay away from wild animals.
- Do not touch orphaned wildlife. Even baby raccoons and skunks can be rabid and transmit the virus. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator for assistance.
- Contact your veterinarian right away if any of your animals are bitten or scratched by any wild animal, particularly skunks, bats, foxes, or raccoons.
- If your animals exhibit any neurologic or dramatic behavioral changes, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Isolate and avoid contact with these animals if possible.
- If you have been bitten or scratched by a wild animal, contact your physician and local health department right away.
- If you must remove dead wildlife from your property, wear rubber gloves or lift the carcass with a shovel or other tool, and double-bag it for the trash. Do not directly touch the animal with bare hands.