I received the information from our Veterinarian in charge of Public Health for the state of Arkansas last week. It is very interesting that Rabies is on the rise again. Last year we had a total of 152 cases of confirmed positive. Of the 152 cases reported we had 118 skunks, 26 bats, 3 dogs, 3 cats, 1 cow and 1 horse.
Contrary to popular belief, any mammal can get rabies. This disease is mainly transmitted by saliva or nervous tissue such as brain or cerebral spinal fluid. It mainly travels in the body by the nerves and affects the central nervous system. We all know how curious cattle and horses can be. A common form of transmission of rabies to cattle and horses is to be bitten on the nose by an infected animal, skunk.
In small animals, such as dogs and cats, we normally see what is called the mad form of rabies. This is where they will get aggressive. But, here in Arkansas we normally see the dumb form of rabies. They will also not be able to eat or drink due to a paralysis of the larynx. Large animals, such as cattle and horses normally do not show the aggressive form of rabies but get what is called the dumb form. This is where they can act a little aggressive but only in the later stages. One of the first clinical signs in cattle is continuous bellowing or bawling all the time. They act like they are going to give birth with uncontrollable straining. Have a progressive lameness until they go down to the ground. Normally these are bright eyed and alert downers. Now they may get aggressive and try and get you, but they can’t since they are down. You may also see them slobbering due to the paralysis of the larynx in later stages. This is also where you see the foaming of the mouth in small animals. But, please, remember that this is only in the later stages of the disease. They can transmit rabies to you way before this symptom appears. Dogs foaming at the mouth are almost dead from the disease.
Generally, the first clinical sign we need to watch for is uncharacteristic behavior, such as, seeing a skunk out during the day. They are generally nocturnal or out at night. Our best protection from this disease is to vaccinate all of our domestic animals, cats and dogs. And if we see any nocturnal animals out during the day, STAY AWAY!! And while not necessarily politely correct, shoot them and dispose of them with rubber gloves on, (bury or burn).
The only test we have for confirmation of rabies that is reliable is a fluorescent antibody test off tissue from the brain. Obliviously, this is a non-survival test and the animal must be euthanized for it to be performed. This also means you cannot use a head shot with a gun. It needs to be a heart shot. We have to have the brain fresh and intact to run the test. So, handling is imperative. We even have a special way to ship these specimens. If you suspect an animal with Rabies, please, call the authorities or your local veterinarian.
We do have a post-exposure treatment for rabies. It does work, but is very costly. In talking to my friend with the positive cow in Madison County, estimated cost was around $20,000.00 per human exposure.
Tim E. O’Neill, DVM