After a third wild animal tested positive for rabies this year, Columbia County officials are urging residents to protect their pets with vaccines.
Dogs encountered raccoons confirmed to be positive for rabies in April and on July 15 in Harlem. Those dogs had to be euthanized because they weren’t current on their rabies vaccinations.
In the most recent incident on July 19, two dogs attacked a raccoon, which also tested positive for rabies, on Macks Road in Harlem. Those dogs were up-to-date on rabies vaccinations, so they got a booster shot and are in a 45-day quarantine at home, according to Columbia County Animal Services Operations Manager Daniel Mayne.
Vaccinations are the easiest way to keep pets safe from the virus.
“It’s easy, simple,” Mayne said.
Rabies is a viral infection transmitted in the saliva of infected animals. The virus enters the central nervous system of the host, causing a disease that is almost always fatal.
Rabies in domesticated animals such as dogs and cats usually comes from contact with infected animals such as foxes, bats, skunks, coyotes and raccoons. Mayne said his office usually sees a few cases a year, mostly in wild animals, but saw as many as 12 in 2008 and seven in 2009.
“Dogs are curious. They are going to have a tendency to go after wild critters,” said veterinarian Dr. Edward Gross, of Care More Animal Hospital. “Other than keeping (wild animals) away, the vaccine is going to be the safest (way to protect pets from rabies).”
The rabies vaccine is the only one required by state law.
If a vaccinated pet comes into contact with an infected animal, that pet only needs a booster shot and to be carefully watched while quarantined at home.
If pets that haven’t been vaccinated come in contact with an infected animal, it must be euthanized or kept in a kennel to be inspected by Animal Services employees for at least six months with no direct human contact.
Gross and Mayne agree that if an animal or human is showing symptoms of rabies, it’s too late. The virus is usually fatal and beyond treatment if symptoms are apparent.
Mayne said residents should call Animal Services or law enforcement if they see an animal they believe is infected.
“It’s not uncommon to see a raccoon or fox or anything like that walking through your yard,” Mayne said. “But if the animal is acting sick or lethargic, somewhat paralyzed or disoriented, foaming at the mouth, hypersensitive, things of that nature, then that is cause for concern. ... Unless its stumbling and falling over, more than likely it’s not rabid.”
The best way to protect pets is with vaccinations and minimized contact with wild animals.
Keep garbage cans sealed and avoid leaving pet food, which attracts wild animals, outside.
“You want to be cautious of anything that attracts rabies carriers onto your property,” Mayne said.
Gross said rabies vaccines can be effective for one or three years and don’t cost a lot.
Animal Services offers rabies vaccine clinics twice a year with vaccines costing $5. The next clinic will be held in October.