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Norwich Bulletin - 11/30/2008

What You Need To Know About Rabies

Recently a rabid woodchuck in Waterford scratched someone. While it is fairly unusual for a woodchuck to have rabies, there are sixty reported cases of rabies in woodchucks in Connecticut since 1991. From 1991 until June, 2008, Connecticut has had more than 6,000 reported cases of rabies. There were 4,593 raccoons (the obvious majority), 1,177 were skunks, and the balance is made up of lots of other kinds of animals, including three bobcats, horses, cows and even goats!

Rabies is a virus that is usually transferred through bites, although if the animal or person has a scratch or wound, the saliva of the infected animal can enter the blood stream, or mucous membranes such as eyes, nose or mouth. Rabies can be transferred from the mother to her young via breast milk, and also through urine. Incubation can be several years or a few days, but eventually the virus will travel to the brain and then the saliva glands and symptoms become evident.

Normally incubation is one to three months. When the virus gets into the brain, the symptoms become evident. If you find a dead animal where the cause of death is not obvious such as hit by car or shot, handle carefully, using a shovel to place the animal in a plastic bag and call the appropriate officials. Rabies could be the cause and this animal should be tested.

A rabid animalís behavior will change, such as becoming very quiet, drinking more water, loss of appetite, then becoming very excited, disoriented, fever, irritable, trembling, lack of fear, and perhaps attacking humans or other animals. Abnormal behavior in a wild animal should be cause for concern that it could be rabies, especially if a wild animal suddenly loses its fear of people.

You need to stay away from the animal and call your local Animal Control Officer immediately. You may also want to notify the Dept. of Agriculture, and local health department. And most importantly, teach your children to leave all wild animals alone and to tell you if they are scratched or bitten by ANY animal, domestic or wild. Any bite by a domestic animal should be reported to your local animal control.

Itís the law that your cat or dog have a current Rabies vaccination starting at four months of age, and every three years afterwards. There is also a rabies vaccine for horses, cattle, sheep, goats, swine and ferrets and it is advisable to have these animals also vaccinated. If your cat goes outside or your dog runs loose (which it should never do), and you notice a scratch or wound of unknown origin on your pet, take it to your vet immediately for a rabies booster. Your vet will report it to your local health department or animal control officer. You will need to isolate your pet for fourteen days.

Connecticut has seen a resurgence of wild animals that were uncommon only a few decades ago. This is causing an increase in rabies cases. To limit exposure to wild animals that carry rabies, provide yard fencing for your dog (which you should do anyway), and keep your cat indoors or have a safe enclosure for your cat to enjoy. Wild animals are attracted to homes and yards where they smell food so make sure to eliminate outside food sources, keep your trash cans securely covered, and remove the empty food bowls at night, if you feed your dog outside, or if you have feral cats living in your yard.

If you work with animals, or are in animal rescue or wildlife rehabilitation, it is advisable to have a rabies vaccination as a prophylaxis. Records indicate that only one unvaccinated American in recent times has survived rabies, so this is a virus that must be taken very seriously. At this writing, I have not had the rabies vaccinations because my insurance does not cover the shots and they are very expensive, but I very seldom work in the trenches anymore. But if you are out there rescuing, please have those rabies vaccinations.

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