Rabies -- A Real Worry In Rim Country



Two weeks ago, I wrote about Higgins and Chipper and their encounters with javelina. I am delighted to report that both dogs are doing very well. Chipper has had the drain tube and staples removed and is using the injured rear leg a little. It was quite an experience.

An unexpected result of all this has been alarming information about rabies. Shortly after the encounter with the javelina, Mike Spaulding from Gila County Rabies Control called and visited the Stillers' home and mine. Both of these dogs are now in quarantine for 45 days. Because we both appeared to be responsible pet owners and have secure fencing, this quarantine is being done at home. If Spaulding did not feel that we and our quarters were acceptable, he could have taken the dogs. Provisions of this quarantine state that we agree to keep our pets secured on our property avoiding contact with other dogs. Here at the Black Dog Ranch, that is rather difficult. The dogs can be walked on leashes, but contact with other dogs must be avoided. Both dogs now have had rabies boosters.

I contacted Elisabeth Lawaczeck, state public health veterinarian, Office of Infectious Diseases, whom I had communications with for a previous article on rabies. She sent this photo of a rabid dog (next page), as well as a wealth of information and charts concerning rabies in Arizona. Through all of this, some serious issues have been brought to my attention and are important enough to share.

It is difficult to imagine the seriousness of a rabies scare until you have lived through it. Two javelina have tested positive for rabies in Gila County.

If Higgins and Chipper had not had current rabies vaccinations, both of them would have had to be euthanized or put into quarantine in Globe for 180 days at a cost of $7 per day for a total of $1,260. The Globe alternative may sound like a better solution than euthanasia, but a family pet could go absolutely mad locked up in a cage for six months. The only way to avoid the quarantine is to have the animal that bit your dog. That can be difficult, particularly if it was a javelina. If you have the animal, he must be killed and his head sent to a lab in either Phoenix or Tucson. If the animal is not available, it is assumed he is rabid and required procedures must be followed.

Incidentally, if your pet is bitten by a wild animal, immediately cleanse the wound and then take him to the veterinarian for a rabies booster, antibiotics and other required treatment.

Rabies exposure is the result of a bite wound that penetrates the skin or of getting saliva or brain tissue from a rabid animal into an open wound or in the eyes, nose and mouth. The "shedding period" or infectious stage is the time that an animal excretes rabies virus in its saliva. Rabies cannot be transmitted by contact with blood, urine, feces, petting or touching fur or being sprayed by a skunk. Rodents and rabbits in Arizona are at very low risk for rabies

Naturally, the moral of the story is -- make sure your dogs and cats have current rabies shots. Dog owners are required by Arizona Revised Statues to have their dogs vaccinated for rabies and licensed. The recommendations are as follows: Dogs, cats and ferrets should be initially immunized between 3 and 4 months of age. The second vaccination should be administered 12 months after the first vaccination. After that, a three-year vaccine can be administered. However, in the event that your animal is bitten by a wild animal, a rabies booster should be given.

This vaccination must be administered by a licensed veterinarian to be valid. The charge for the rabies vaccination is about $20 which is a small price to pay for this protection. The reason it must be given by a veterinarian is to insure that the serum used meets the standards set by the state.

If your dog bites another person, whether accidentally or intentionally, he must be quarantined for 10 days. If he is vaccinated, this quarantine can usually be at home if approved by rabies control. An animal is contagious when he is showing symptoms. Once a dog shows symptoms, he will be dead within 10 days.

Infected animals do not always show the furious form of rabies and occasionally an animal will die suddenly after exhibiting few or no symptoms. Symptoms include paralysis, loss of appetite, unusual vocalizations, biting at itself or others, excessive salivation, behavior changes, staggering, convulsions and unprovoked aggression. Bats found on the ground or flying in daylight are always suspect and should be reported. With bats, the whole body is sent for testing, not just the head.

The number of confirmed cases of rabies in animals in Arizona has increased dramatically over the past few years. Bats, skunks and foxes are the most common. Wildlife is the most important source of rabies infection in the United States for both humans and domestic animals.

Please do not wait until your pet is exposed to rabies. Get him vaccinated immediately. Rabid animals can jump over or crawl under fences. It is just not worth the worry. Vaccinate.

Clinical signs of rabies

Signs of rabies in individual animals, even of the same species, can vary widely. They can be either subtle or obvious and occasionally an animal will die suddenly after exhibiting few or no symptoms. Signs of rabies include:

  • paralysis, stupors
  • bats found on the ground or flying in daylight
  • loss of appetite
  • temperament change
  • unusual vocalizations
  • confusion, agitation, restlessness
  • biting at itself or others
  • trouble walking (staggering, unsteadiness)
  • excessive salivation
  • tremors, convulsions
  • fever
  • unprovoked aggression
  • behavior changes such as nocturnal animals becoming active during daylight hours

Many diseases and conditions occur in both wild and domesticated species that may mimic rabies. Some of the more common diseases/conditions include: canine distemper; toxicoses (poisoning); listeriosis; herpes virus infection; brain abscess or tumors; encephalitides of other etiologies; tetanus; head or spinal cord trauma; neuropathies; and localized lesions and obstructions.

If there is uncertainty about the cause of death of an animal which showed acute, progressive neurologic signs compatible with rabies, and there is a known or suspected human or animal exposure, the dead animal should be tested for rabies. Wild animals that are sick or have recently died should be submitted for testing, even without any known human exposure.

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