As summer approaches, and with it the opportunity to spend more time outdoors, Oklahomans may also have more opportunities to come into contact with Oklahoma wildlife, including those that may be carriers for rabies.
So far this year, 41 cases of animal rabies have been confirmed in Oklahoma, including 25 skunks, nine cows, five dogs, one horse, and one fox. Animal rabies cases have been confirmed in counties located throughout the state. The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) Acute Disease Service (ADS) reminds you to vaccinate your companion animals, such as dogs or cats against rabies, and to avoid contact with wild animals to protect you and your family. Do not feed or handle them, even if they seem friendly. If you see a wild animal acting strangely, report it to the local animal control officer, or park officials if the animal is located on a state or federal park site.
“Although most rabies cases in Oklahoma occur in skunks, most human exposures to rabies result from contact to unvaccinated pets or livestock that become rabid following an encounter with a rabid wild animal. Having your pets currently vaccinated has the added benefit of protecting your family from exposure to rabies and avoid the costly and uncomfortable process of receiving post-exposure shots,” said ADS Director Lauri Smithee.
Oklahoma rules and regulations require that a veterinarian vaccinate dogs, cats, and ferrets against rabies by the time the animal is 4 months of age, but the vaccines can be safely given at 3 months of age. When to revaccinate depends upon the documentation of previous vaccines, age of the animal, type of vaccine administered, and city licensing codes. Rabies vaccines for horses, sheep, and cattle are also available and recommended for show animals and all valuable breeding stock.
When pets are unvaccinated, or their vaccinations are out-of-date, their owners have some very tough decisions to make if their pets are exposed to a rabid animal. In order to prevent the continued spread of rabies, public health law requires that unvaccinated animals exposed to rabies are either quarantined at a veterinarian’s office for six months or euthanized, at the owner’s expense.
Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system and is almost always fatal once symptoms of the disease have started. Rabies virus is found in the brain, spinal cord, and saliva of infected animals and is transmitted through a bite or opening in the skin or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth). Although rabies symptoms can vary, it is important to be suspicious of the following behaviors in animals:
— An animal that appears to be ill
— A wild animal that appears more tame than you would expect
— An animal that's having trouble moving or may even be paralyzed
— Unusual or inappropriate aggression (without being provoked)
In addition to vaccinating your pets, keep dogs and cats close to home. Dogs should be kept within a fenced-in area when outside. Cats should be kept in at night and not allowed to roam freely. Discourage wild animals from inhabiting areas close to residences by reducing or eliminating the availability of food, water, and shelter. Remove outdoor, unused pet food and water bowls at night, never intentionally feed wild animals, keep trash cans tightly sealed, and fill up entry holes in and under fences, kennels, decks and buildings.
Individuals can consult with the OSDH ADS epidemiologist-on-call at
405-271-4060 for evaluation of rabies risk and guidance on submitting an animal for rabies testing.
For more information about rabies, contact your local county health department or your veterinarian. Rabies information is also available on the OSDH website at http://www.ok.gov/health/.