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Health / Safety

CSU, Colorado Department of Agriculture warn that horse confirmed with rabies in Colorado

April 15, 2010

Colorado State University and the Colorado Department of Agriculture are urging livestock and pet owners to discuss animal health concerns, including the rabies vaccine, with their local veterinarian after a horse in eastern Arapahoe County tested positive for rabies.

Monitor animals for symptoms

Animal owners should monitor their animals for symptoms. Local veterinarians can help decide the best course of action to protect livestock and pets from rabies.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in 2009 there were 103 rabies cases in 20 Colorado counties. One of those cases included a horse.

In September 2009, a horse in El Paso County was euthanized and subsequent tests determined the horse was infected with rabies. Public health experts believe the horse was exposed in July 2009 to a skunk on its home property in the Black Forest area.

As of April 12, 28 animals have tested positive for rabies in Colorado in 2010:

  • 25 skunks (13 from Elbert County)
  • 1 domestic cat from Prowers County
  • 1 muskrat from Morgan County
  • 1 horse from eastern Arapahoe County

Viral disease infecting brain, central nervous system

Rabies is a viral disease infecting the brain and central nervous system. The clinical appearance of rabies typically falls into two types: “aggressive” and “dumb.” Aggressive rabies symptoms include combativeness, violent behavior and sensitivity to touch and other kinds of stimulation. There also is a “dumb” form of the disease in which the animal is lethargic, weak in one or more limbs, and unable to raise its head or make sounds because its throat and neck muscles are paralyzed.

Rabies can be passed from animals to humans. The best protection from rabies is to keep pets currently vaccinated. Rabies vaccination performed by owners will not be recognized by local public health or animal control agencies for licensing or in the event of an exposure to a rabid animal, so it is important to have pets vaccinated by a veterinarian, the humane society or a local animal shelter.

Spread through saliva

Rabies is spread primarily through the saliva of a rabid animal when it bites another animal or person. Rabies also can be spread when infected saliva gets into open wounds, cuts or enters through membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth. No cure exists for rabies once symptoms appear although there is a vaccine to prevent the infection.

Dramatic behavior changes are a sign of rabies, for example, wild mammals that show no fear of people and pets; nocturnal animals that are active in daylight; and bats found on the ground, in swimming pools or that have been caught by a pet. Rabid carnivores, such as skunks, foxes, bobcats, coyotes, dogs and cats, may become aggressive and may attempt to bite people, pets and livestock.

In addition to ensuring that pets and livestock are vaccinated properly against rabies, follow these prevention steps:

  • Don’t feed wild animals or allow your pets around them. Teach children to stay away from wild mammals.
  • Contact your veterinarian if your dog or cat is bitten or scratched by a wild animal, such as a skunk, bat, fox or raccoon.
  • If you suspect you’ve been exposed to rabies, contact your physician immediately.
  • Vaccination should be considered for pets, horses and other equines, breeding livestock, dairy cattle or other high-value livestock.
  • If you observe a wild mammal acting strangely, especially a skunk, or if you find a dead skunk that isn’t on your property, stay away from it. Strange behavior for a skunk would include being out and about during daytime hours.
  • If you must remove a dead skunk on your property, wear rubber gloves or lift the carcass with a shovel or other tool, and double-bag it for the trash.
  • Do not allow pet dogs or cats to roam freely. This increases the chance they may be exposed without your knowledge. Keep dogs in a fenced yard.
  • Take precautions when camping, hunting or fishing. Avoid sleeping on the open ground without the protection of a closed tent or camper. Keep pets on a leash and do not allow them to wander.

Additional Resources

Colorado State University

Colorado Department of Agriculture

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment


Colorado Division of Wildlife


Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
E-mail: dellrae.moellenberg@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-6009