Animal owners urged to check rabies vaccinations

BISMARCK – Citing a significant increase in rabies cases, North Dakota animal health officials are urging pet owners to make sure their animals are vaccinated against the disease. 

“We have already had 40 confirmed cases this year,” said Dr. Beth Carlson, deputy state veterinarian. “That's double the 20 cases we had in all of 2011.” 

Carlson said the cases have been found in cattle, horses, sheep, cats, bats and a large number of skunks. 

“We typically see one or two cases in dogs each year as well,” she said. “All mammals are susceptible to rabies.” 

Carlson said pet owners should check their records to make sure the rabies vaccinations for their pets are up to date. 

“If you are unsure, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible,” she said. “No treatment is available for unvaccinated animals after they have been exposed to rabies.” 

Vaccines are approved for most domestic animals, including cats, dogs, ferrets, sheep, horses, and cattle.

“This is not just a companion animal issue,” said Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. “Farmers and ranchers should consult their veterinarians about vaccinating animals that are especially valuable or frequently handled.” 

Carlson said livestock owners should also be on the look-out for animals showing strange or unusual behavior and report them to their veterinarian immediately. 

A viral disease usually transmitted by the bite of an infected animal, rabies is always fatal in animals once signs of disease are seen. Onset of disease is typically one to three months after exposure, but can range from less than one week to several months. 

Immediate treatment in humans exposed to rabies, known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), is highly successful in preventing the disease. PEP is provided to prevent rabies disease in humans, once a person starts showing symptoms of rabies it is almost always fatal.  Only a few people have been known to survive rabies infection without this treatment. 

Carlson said questions about rabies relating to humans should be directed to the North Dakota Department of Health. 

Skunks are the primary vector for rabies in the state. North Dakota law bans private ownership of skunks and raccoons.