Rabies in Colorado
What animals are most likely to have rabies?
- Only mammals can carry rabies. Traditionally, in Colorado, bats were the main source of rabies infections; however, in recent years the number of skunks testing positive for rabies has been rapidly increasing. Skunks now are the main source for rabies in Colorado. Other mammals can be infected with rabies from bats and skunks. Domestic animals such as dogs, cats, cattle, and horses can become infected by being bitten by a rabid wild animal.
How does an animal or person become infected with rabies?
- People, pets and livestock can get rabies from animal bites or, rarely, from infected saliva getting into their eyes, nose, mouth or an open wound. Brain tissue can also be infectious and should not be handled.
What should I do if I am exposed to rabies?
- Call your doctor immediately, and report the incident to your local health department. Treatment is available if administered in a timely manner.
How do I know if an animal has rabies?
- The first sign of rabies is usually a change in the animal’s behavior. Animals may act more aggressive or more tame than usual. Nocturnal animals such as skunks, foxes and bats may be out during the day. Rabid animals may stagger, tremble, or seem weak. Bats may be found on the ground, unable to fly. Rabid animals may appear agitated and excited or paralyzed and frightened. Sometimes, rabid animals do not show any signs of illness before death from rabies. If a wild animal does not run away when you approach it, it may be sick or injured. Do not try to help it. If an animal is acting strangely, stay away from the animal and call your local animal control office or the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The only way to tell whether a wild animal has rabies is to test its brain. If a dog, cat, or ferret is alive 10 days after biting a person, the dog, cat, or ferret did not have rabies at the time of the bite.
Why are there concerns about skunks and rabies?
- Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system of mammals, including humans. The disease is almost always fatal to both people and animals. Skunk rabies spreads rapidly and infects large numbers of skunks. The disease often spreads to other wildlife and pets, making human exposure a real concern. Humans and animals are much more likely to come into contact with skunks because they live on the ground. Because skunks may seek shelter and food where pets and livestock live, there is much more opportunity for the pets or livestock to interact with skunks.
How will I know if a skunk or bat has bitten one of my animals?
- It is extremely difficult to see a bat bite, even on a human who knows where he or she was bitten. Bat teeth are so small they leave almost no mark behind, but still are able to transmit saliva and rabies. Skunk teeth also are small enough that it may be difficult to tell whether a pet has been bitten. Any animal that is found unattended or in close contact with a skunk or bat is assumed to be at risk for rabies, unless rabies testing of the wild animal shows it is negative.
What is the best way to avoid rabies?
- Keep your pets current on rabies vaccinations, and avoid contact with wildlife. A licensed veterinarian will ensure your animals are properly vaccinated by keeping the vaccine at proper temperatures, ensuring your animal is old enough and healthy enough for vaccination, and keeping proper records.
Eight ways to protect yourself & your family:
- Do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals, and be cautious of stray dogs and cats. Rabid animals do not always appear vicious!
- Teach children to leave wildlife alone. Be sure your child knows to tell you if an animal bites or scratches them.
- Have your veterinarian (or local animal shelter) vaccinate your pets and livestock against rabies. Keep their vaccinations up-to-date.
- Tightly close garbage cans and feed bins. Open trash and feed bags attracts wild or stray animals to your home or yard.
- Feed your pets indoors; never leave pet food outside as this attracts wildlife.
- Keep outdoor pets in a fenced yard.
- Avoid all contact with bats, especially bats found on the ground. If you find a bat on the ground, don’t touch it. Report the bat and its location to your local animal control officer or health department.
- Call your doctor immediately if an animal bites you. Contact your local health department to report the incident.
Which animals should I vaccinate against rabies?
- Vaccinate all dogs, cats, pet ferrets, and mammalian livestock. Reptiles and birds cannot be infected with rabies, and small rodents are unlikely to come into contact with wild bats or skunks, so such pets do not need to be vaccinated.
What will happen if my pet is bitten by a rabid skunk?
- Animals that are kept up to date on rabies vaccination are given a “booster” rabies vaccination, and observed at home for 45 days (watch for disease symptoms). Unvaccinated pets that have had contact with a known or suspect rabid animal must be either euthanized OR placed in strict isolation from humans and other animals for a period of four months, at the expense of the owner. These requirements are designed to protect both the family of the pet/livestock owner and the community.
Should I trap skunks on my property & move them?
- Never trap and relocate wildlife! It is illegal for the public to trap and relocate skunks, foxes, and many other types of wildlife in Colorado without a permit or other approval. Call the Colorado Division of Wildlife for information on permitted activities.