Urging Livestock Owners to Vaccinate Livestock Against Rabies

Due to recent cases of rabies in wildlife and domestic animals in southwest Virginia, Dr. Richard Wilkes, State Veterinarian with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, is recommending that livestock owners consider discussing rabies vaccination and other management strategies with their large animal veterinarian.

“The Virginia Department of Health monitors rabies cases,” says Wilkes. “And they tell us that there appears to be increased incidence of rabies in livestock in the western part of the state. In Botetourt County, VDH has placed dairy cows on one dairy under observation for six months due to exposure to several rabid cats.”

Dr. Julia Murphy, State Public Health Veterinarian with VDH, noted that rabies is all but 100-percent fatal in humans and animals and that it can be transmitted from animals to humans, making it a disease of significance.

“Each year in Virginia, eight to ten cows and one or two horses are confirmed with rabies,” adds Murphy. “And occasionally rabies is confirmed in other livestock such as sheep.”

Unvaccinated livestock that are exposed to rabies are typically observed for additional cases of rabies for six months while exposed vaccinated livestock are observed for 45 days. During this observation period, animal movement on or off the farm is restricted.

Rabies vaccines are available for certain livestock, and VDACS and VDH encourage livestock producers to talk with their veterinarians about these vaccines and consider using them as part of their herd health program.

Properly vaccinating not only decreases the chances of infection and death, but it also will decrease the period of time that animal movement is restricted following exposure.

“The reduced time for observation for vaccinated livestock may be a prime motivator for many farmers to vaccinate their animals,” explains Wilkes.

Murphy says that rabies vaccines should be administered only by or under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian in order to be recognized by VDH. She adds that farmers should also have their dogs and cats vaccinated for rabies, both for the health of the family and to protect livestock.

In addition to vaccination, farmers can take other protective measures for livestock. These include not adopting wild animals as family pets and being on the alert for wild animals that exhibit abnormal behavior.

Farmers should report animals that exhibit rabies-like symptoms to their local health department as well as their veterinarian if the symptoms occur in their livestock. Symptoms may include aggressive, combative behavior and high sensitivity to touch and other kinds of stimulation.

Less aggressive symptoms may include lethargy, weakness in one or more limbs and the inability to raise its head or make normal sounds because throat and neck muscles are paralyzed. Death generally occurs a few days after symptoms appear, usually from respiratory failure.

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