Once again this year we are seeing a rise in the number of cases of rabies in our state. This year according to the Missouri Department of Health, the state has had 23 cases compared to 17 cases at this same time last year. Currently, four counties are on alert those counties are Bollinger, Howell, Oregon and Wayne. Alerts are issued when the disease has been reported in domestic animals. The majority of cases this year has been in skunks, with 15 positive. The remainder of these cases have been in domestic animals including horses, dogs and cats.
Rabies is a viral disease. The virus causes encephalomyelitis (brain inflammation) and can affect any warm-blooded animal including humans. Death is almost certain. Transmission is usually due to a bite by an infected animal because their saliva contains the virus. However, there have been reports of the virus being transmitted by way of transplanting corneal tissue. Aerosol transmission has also been documented in the laboratory and in caves with infected bats.
The incubation period of infected animals is variable and can be prolonged. Dogs usually have an incubation period of 21-80 days but can be shorter or longer.
Animals infected with the virus typically show central nervous system signs. There are two forms that are usually seen, the “dumb” and “furious.” Usually the first sign is a change in behavior. You may see signs of colic, acting as a foreign body is in the mouth or an early infection. Body temperature change in infected animals may or may not be seen. Animals infected with rabies usually stop drinking and eating. After 1-3 days, the infected animal may show signs of paralysis or becomes aggressive. Dogs, cats and horses may bite other animals or people with no provocation and cattle will butt anything that moves. Death usually occurs within 10 days of the first signs of disease. Paralysis of the mouth and throat results in the profuse salivation that is commonly present.
Diagnosis occurs by submitting brain tissue samples to the laboratory for viral identification. If the animal is euthanized, care must be taken not to damage the head so the tissue can be submitted. There is no treatment available so prevention is the key. Vaccination of pets is well accepted and some counties are currently setting up vaccination clinics. Vaccination of livestock is dependent upon the number of cases in your county and your desire to prevent the disease in your herd.
I personally recommend animals that are handle a lot, such as show animals, should be vaccinated. I do vaccinate the livestock that my children show. It is important that you consult your veterinarian as to what is occurring in your area. Stay aware of the behavior of your herd and any wildlife they are exposed to. Don’t take chances and stay up to-date on what is going on in our state.
Frankie Bowers, DVM, MS practices at Animal Clinic of the Ozarks in Ozark, Mo.