Question: I killed a raccoon at the barn that was acting strange. All my dogs and cats are vaccinated for rabies, but I'm wondering if I need to worry about my horses and cows? Can they get rabies?
Answer: Any warm-blooded animal can get rabies, so yes, that means your cattle and horses are at risk, too. The rabies vaccine is only approved for dogs, cats, ferrets, horses, cattle and sheep.
Here is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says regarding livestock and rabies: "Consideration should be given to vaccinating livestock that are particularly valuable. Animals that have frequent contact with humans (e.g., those in petting zoos, fairs and other public exhibitions) and horses traveling interstate should be currently vaccinated against rabies."
The CDC also advises, "Livestock from which raw (unpasteurized) milk or milk products are produced for direct human consumption should be currently vaccinated against rabies."
I do not currently have any cattle clients who vaccinate their cattle for rabies. We have to be practical in our approach. Animals that bite, such as horses, have a greater potential for transmitting rabies, and I do recommend vaccinating them. But any warm-blooded animal demonstrating neurological signs or acting strangely should be handled with care. If human or animal exposure is even suspected, the suspect animal's brain should be submitted for rabies testing. Always contact your veterinarian if you have questions.
If you do have to kill an animal acting strangely, do not shoot it in the head. Brain tissue is required for testing. Wear rubber gloves and carefully put the body into a plastic bag, unless it is too large. Keep the body cool until you can get it to your veterinarian or health department.
Rabies is a very serious disease. In our area, the incidence seems to be increasing, and I fear the number of dogs and cats current on vaccinations is decreasing. Rabies vaccination of our companion animals provides a valuable buffer between wild animals and humans, and it is the law.
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