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Health / Safety

Larimer County health officials warn of rabid skunks, two found in Foothills area

May 15, 2012

The Larimer County Department of Health and Environment have confirmed that three skunks in the city have tested positive to rabies, presenting a health risk to horses, livestock, domestic pets and potentially people.

a skunkThe first skunk was found in early May close to the foothills in the area of La Porte Avenue, about a mile west of Overland Trail and half a mile west of the Foothills Hiking Trail overlooking Horsetooth Reservoir. Two more skunks were confirmed to have rabies on Friday, one found in an area near the entrance to the Fort Collins Country Club, and the other approximately 2 miles due north of the first, along the foothills.

The first skunk was tested both locally and by the CDC in Atlanta and confirmed to have the skunk variant of rabies, the first time this type of rabies has been confirmed in a populated area of Larimer County.

One of the rabid skunks had climbed into an enclosure where two dogs were kept, and the dogs killed the skunk. Fortunately both dogs were up to date on their vaccines, will get rabies boosters, and be on home observation for 45 days.

Keep vaccinations up-to-date

All Larimer County residents are urged by the health department, as well as CSU veterinarians, to keep their pets, horses and livestock vaccinated and up-to-date, and to avoid skunks that are out in daylight or are behaving strangely. Unusual behavior can include a skunk that is acting frenetic, walking in circles, is not afraid of approaching pets or humans, or is highly aggressive.  They may also look sluggish or tame and have difficulty with walking or balance.

For a full slate of resources, go to the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital website.

“I can’t emphasize too strongly how important it is to make sure your animals are vaccinated,” said Dr. Adrienne LeBailly, the county’s public health director. “In Pueblo, where skunk rabies first appeared in late 2010, they’ve already had to euthanize 11unvaccinated animals. As a pet owner and animal lover, it breaks my heart to see animals have to be destroyed. I know there are a lot of unvaccinated horses in the county.”

There is no cure for rabies. Unvaccinated dogs and cats that come into contact with a rabid animal will either need to be euthanized or vaccinated and quarantined at a veterinary facility for 90 days, followed by another 90 days of home quarantine, which can be very expensive. Pets behind in their vaccinations must be vaccinated and quarantined at home for 90 days. Fully vaccinated pets need a booster and 45 days of observation at home.

To lower your or your pets’ exposure to rabies, the Larimer County Health Department recommends the following:

  • Vaccinate dogs, cats, and ferrets as recommended by your veterinarian; make sure they are up-to-date on their shots.  Animals too young to be vaccinated should be kept indoors.  Talk to your large animal vet about vaccinating horses and livestock.
  • Leash your pets when they accompany you on a walk in your neighborhood or in parks, the foothills, or open spaces. Pets who roam freely have an increased chance of an encounter with a wild animal and could be exposed to rabies without your knowledge.
  • Feed your pets indoors, and bring your pets inside at night. Do not leave pet food outdoors or leave livestock feed containers open in sheds or barns.
  • Do not feed, touch or handle wild animals and be cautious of stray dogs and cats
  • Teach children not to touch either live or dead wildlife (including bats) and to tell you when they have been bitten or scratched by a pet.
  • Call the Larimer Humane Emergency Animal Control line at 970-226-3647, Ext. 7, if you see a potentially rabid animal or have a pet that may have been exposed. 
  • Call your doctor or visit an emergency room immediately after being bitten or scratched by an animal that seems sick or threatening. 

CSU employees can receive discounted services at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital through Commitment to Campus benefits.

Report potentially rabid skunks

Skunks that might be rabid, especially if there has been contact with pets or people, should be reported to the Larimer Humane Society (970) 226-3647 ext. 7 immediately, even if the pets are fully vaccinated. 

Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. The virus is transmitted through contact with the saliva of infected animals. There is no cure for rabies and it is almost always fatal. 

Until 2007, the main reservoir for rabies in Colorado was bats. Once skunk rabies is established in an area, it cannot be eradicated, and can sometimes spread infections to other common wild animals, such as foxes. The risk of rabies exposure to wildlife, livestock, pets and humans increases

For more information about the recently discovered skunks, visit Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.

Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
Phone: (970) 491-6009