Pet health: Rabies a real and rising threat to people and pets


The warm months are a time to beware of rabies. Rabies is an infectious disease that can threaten the health of people and their pets.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is reporting that 131 animals have been diagnosed just this year with rabies in Colorado.

Reports of rabies infection in wildlife hosts often rise sharply in the springtime, as these animals become increasingly active in places where we may easily observe and encounter them.

Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transferred from one animal species to another. It is triggered by a virus that infects the brain and, once acquired, it can be fatal. The rabies virus is shed in the saliva of an infected animal and usually is passed through bites and scratches. The virus then replicates and travels through the nerves to the brain.

Vaccination against rabies can prevent companion animals, such as dogs and cats, from contracting rabies from wildlife — and this is a critical way to avoid the spread of rabies to people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that an average of 60,000 people die from rabies each year, most in Africa and Asia, and that more than 15 million people receive postexposure prophylaxis (PEP vaccine) every year. Most human cases result from the bites of rabid dogs; children are most often at risk, according to the WHO.

The main carriers of rabies in the United States are skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes and coyotes. These wild critters are well-established in rural and urban settings alike, and they often come into contact with people and pets. That makes rabies a public-health concern tracked by state and federal agencies.

Bats found on the ground during daytime could be infected with rabies. Skunks, in particular, have gained a high profile as a species that carries rabies in Colorado. In fact, of the 131 animals reported this year, the CDPHE has confirmed rabies in 130 skunks; with the only other animal being an alpaca.

Vaccinate and beware of critters acting odd or sick

With rabies clearly present in wild animals across the state and nation, it is important that pet owners:

• Check vaccination records for their pets.

• Vaccinate any pets that lack current rabies vaccinations.

• Vaccinate horses and frequently handled livestock, such as 4-H and Future Farmers of America animals.

• Keep pets away from wildlife and keep dogs leashed during walks.

• Notice critters in the environment and be especially watchful for animals that seem sick or act abnormally.

• Never approach or touch a wild animal that seems sick or acts strangely. Call a local animal control office immediately to report the time and location of such a sighting.

• Remember, it is abnormal to spot nocturnal animals, including bats and skunks, during the daytime; that can be a sign of infection.

• Talk to your veterinarian for more information.

Pets should always be vaccinated against rabies to prevent the disease; horse and livestock owners should discuss with their veterinarians whether vaccination is warranted.

CPR and first aid classes

CPR and first aid certification classes are offered monthly by the CSU Extension office on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6 to 10 pm. Anyone needing to receive or renew certification can register by calling the Extension office at 264-5931.

We will also attempt to schedule classes on additional dates with five or more registrations. Cost for the classes is $80 for combined CPR/first aid and $55 for CPR, first aid or recertification. The type of first aid information provided will vary by the needs of the audience.