Rabies on the Rise

Veterinarians play a key role in the essential components of rabies prevention and control, including public education and vaccination of pets and livestock.  Veterinarians are encouraged to monitor rabies data from state and local public health departments and use this information when discussing rabies with clients. 

So far in 2017, 93 animals from Colorado have tested positive for rabies.  Of those, 60 rabid animals were known or strongly suspected of exposing 107 domestic pets, 142 livestock animals, and 30 people.  For statewide data visit the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment rabies data website

Many local public health departments have their own websites dedicated to dissemination of rabies information to the public.  Some examples include:

The following resources also provide key information for veterinarians:

Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, 2016

Colorado Revised Statute Title 25, Article 4, Part 6: Rabies Control


Livestock Vaccination:  All species of livestock are susceptible to rabies; cattle and horses are the most frequently reported infected livestock species.  All horses should be considered for vaccination against rabies.  Rabies is considered one of the core equine vaccinations in the AAEP guidelines.  Livestock that have frequent contact with humans (e.g. in petting zoos, fairs, and other public exhibitions) should be considered for vaccination against rabies, including species for which licensed vaccines are not available (extralabel use).  Consideration should also be given to vaccinating livestock that are particularly valuable. 

The Colorado Department of Agriculture has found, through the multitude of rabies exposure investigations over the past several years, that re-vaccination of horses and livestock remains inconsistent. 

Practice Management Tips:

  • Discuss skunk and other wildlife exposure when making vaccination recommendations. If clients regularly see skunks or other wildlife in areas where livestock and horses are housed, rabies vaccination is strongly recommended. 
  • Send out vaccination reminders for horses and livestock to increase re-vaccination compliance. 

Extralabel use of rabies vaccines:  Use of vaccines in any species not listed on the manufacturer’s label is considered extralabel.  Vaccines are currently available for use in: dogs, cats, horses, sheep, cattle, ferrets, raccoons, and coyotes.  Veterinarians are allowed discretionary use of vaccines and must keep in mind the need to establish a substantially extended withdrawal period for extralabel use in food animals. 

Rabies Serology:  There has been an increase in the desire to utilize vaccination titers in lieu of vaccination.  The following key points are important to discuss with clients:

  • A rabies antibody titer does not represent a legal index of immunity in lieu of revaccination.
  • Titers do not directly correlate with protection because other immunologic factors also play a role in preventing rabies and the abilities to measure and interpret those other factors are not well-developed. 
  • Evidence of circulating rabies virus antibodies in animals should not be used as a substitute for current vaccination in managing rabies exposures or determining the need for booster vaccination. 

Rabies or suspicion of rabies is reportable in Colorado.  Even if rabies has not been diagnosed, veterinarians need to call the State Veterinarian’s Office at 303-869-9130 to report suggestive clinical signs of rabies.  If it is after-hours, our office phone message will indicate which staff veterinarian is on call.