Little Rock | 19 April 2012
For the first time in two years, a dog in the state has tested positive for rabies. The dog belonged to a resident of Yell County where it had been living in a pen near the owner’s home. A rabid skunk had gotten into the pen with the dog and subsequently died, presumably after a fight with the dog. The dog started to show symptoms of rabies and was euthanized.
Rabies symptoms in dogs may or may not include the frothing at the mouth commonly associated with the disease. This particular dog was unsteady on its feet, with a dry swollen tongue and an agitated look. There is no test for rabies in dogs other than examination of material taken from the animal’s brain, which means that they must be euthanized first. When animals are outside, even in a pen, they are at risk of exposure to rabies.
According to Susan Weinstein, DVM, state public health veterinarian, the message is that people need to have their dogs and cats vaccinated by a veterinarian. Vaccination is required by state law. It is also important to teach children to stay away from animals in the wild.
“Fences and pens cannot prevent a rabid skunk from coming into contact with family pets. The only sure way to protect your pets and your family is to have your pets vaccinated by a licensed veterinarian,” Weinstein said.
There have been 63 cases of rabies reported this year in the state, a larger number already than last year’s total of 60.
Rabies is a virus that attacks the brain and spinal cord and is a fatal disease. It is most often seen in animals such as skunks, bats and foxes. Cats, dogs, ferrets and livestock can also develop rabies, especially if they are not vaccinated. The rabies virus lives in the saliva (spit) and nervous tissues of infected animals and is spread when they bite or scratch. The virus also may be spread if saliva from an infected animal touches broken skin, open wounds or the lining of the mouth, eyes or nose. Dogs, cats and other domesticated animals like horses and cattle can be infected through bites or scratches from rabid skunks. Vaccination of pets helps create a barrier between rabies in skunks and people.
The first sign of rabies in an animal is usually a change in behavior. Rabid animals may attack people or other animals for no reason, or they may lose their fear of people and seem unnaturally friendly. Staggering, convulsions, choking, frothing at the mouth and paralysis are often present. Skunks may be seen out in daylight, which is an unusual behavior for them, or they may get into a dog pen or under a house. Many animals have a marked change in voice pitch, such as a muted or off-key tone. An animal usually dies within one week of demonstrating signs of rabies. Not all rabid animals act in these ways, however, so you should avoid all wild animals – especially skunks, bats and stray cats and dogs.
If you think you have become exposed to an animal with rabies, wash your wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Contact your physician and county health unit immediately and report the incident. The animal in question should be captured, if possible, without damaging its head or risking further human exposure.
All dogs and cats in Arkansas are required to be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian. This not only protects the animal, but also acts as a barrier between the wildlife exposures of rabies and people, as our pets are more likely to be exposed to a rabid skunk directly than we are. Children especially should be reminded not to touch wild animals and to stay away from stray pets. If an apparently healthy domesticated dog or cat bites a person, it must be captured, confined and observed daily for 10 days following the bite. If the animal remains healthy during this period of time, it did not transmit rabies at the time of the bite. The brain tissue of all wild animals must be tested for rabies if human exposure has occurred.
What can you do to protect yourselves against rabies?
- Be sure your dogs, cats and ferrets are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations
- Do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals
- Keep family pets indoors at night
- Bat-proof your home or summer camp in the fall or winter (The majority of human rabies cases are caused by bat bites.)
- Encourage children to immediately tell an adult if any animal bites them
- Teach children to avoid wildlife, strays and all other animals they do not know well
Do not let any animal escape that has possibly exposed someone to rabies. Depending
on the species, an animal can be observed or tested for rabies in order to avoid the need for rabies treatment.
Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to your local county health unit. For more information, visit our website at http://www.healthy.arkansas.gov, or call 1-800-661-2000 or 1-800-462-0599.