Rabies in Colorado

As of May 15th, two pet dogs have tested positive for rabies in northeast Colorado.   These are the first cases among dogs since 2003.   In addition to the two dogs, there have been 41 confirmed cases of rabies in wild animals in the state so far this year.   A skunk in my hometown of Cheyenne Wells recently tested positive for rabies.   I suspect the number of unconfirmed cases of rabies in Colorado is at least 20 times greater than the number of confirmed cases.    


Rabies is a viral disease in mammals that affects the brain.   To my knowledge, the result is always death.   The clinical appearance of rabies falls into two categories: aggressive and dumb.   Animals with the aggressive form of rabies will be combative.   They will often chase and bite other animals or people.   Rabies is spread primarily through the bite of an infected animal via infected saliva.   Animals with the dumb form of the disease will appear to be weak and lethargic.


Most people’s connotation of rabies is a snarling mad dog, foaming at the mouth – but livestock are also susceptible.   Rabies is uncommon in cattle but there are always a few livestock cases when wildlife cases increase.   The animal will eventually have trouble eating or drinking because it can’t swallow.   The fact that they cannot swallow is why infected animals appear to be foaming at the mouth.   They are unable to swallow their saliva.


A week ago last Friday… our 5-year-old granddaughter Braylee ran into our house and exclaimed, “Daddy just got skunked!”   Apparently while tagging a new-born calf, Tyson was in close contact with a skunk.   It is fairly rare to see skunks during daylight hours.   Therefore, there is a high probability that this skunk was infected with the rabies virus.


Later that day, Tyson brought home a two-year-old heifer that was acting sick.   She had been standing at the water tank with her head down while all of the other cows and heifers were out grazing.   I was outside when he unloaded the heifer.   She was mad and on the fight when she came off the trailer.   She almost got Tyson when he was penning her up.   We suspected rabies.   We had a veterinarian look at her – and he suspected rabies.   As instructed, Tyson gave her an antibiotic.   The vet said, “If she lives, she lives.   If she dies, we will send her brain to the lab.


Saturday night… this suspect heifer calved.   The calf was up nursing the next morning, but the heifer was not eating or drinking.   She would charge the fence when someone looked in on her.   Later that day, I pulled the calf under the fence and started bottle feeding it.   I was leery about getting the calf’s saliva all over my hands while teaching it to nurse from a bottle.   Six days after bringing the heifer home, she died.   We removed her brain and sent it to a lab.   We will know very soon if she had rabies.   Stay tuned.   By the way, her calf is doing fine.