Twenty-seven animals have tested positive for rabies in Colorado this year, putting many pets, livestock and people at risk of exposure to the disease. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment urges people to make sure their pets are up to date on their rabies shots, avoid stray and wild animals, and take other precautions against rabies.
Rabies regularly is found in Colorado wildlife, especially skunks. While it is typical to see an increase in the number of cases as the weather warms up, it has occurred earlier than normal this year. Rabies in skunks is now found routinely along the Front Range and in metro Denver, meaning both humans and pets are at risk for this deadly disease anywhere in the eastern part of the state.
"The presence of rabid animals in densely populated areas is troubling," said Jennifer House, public health veterinarian at the department. "Last year, two dogs in Colorado got rabies, so it's essential to make sure your pets are up to date on their shots. This will keep them and the public safe." In 2017, there were 165 confirmed cases of rabies in animals, including the two dogs.
Rabies spreads primarily through the bite of rabid animals. It usually is fatal in humans once symptoms appear.
- People who have been bitten or scratched by an unfamiliar animal should contact their health care provider and their local public health department immediately.
- If your pet has had contact with a skunk, bat, fox, raccoon or coyote, notify your veterinarian and your local health department.
- To report animals acting strangely, contact the state health department or your local health department.
To avoid rabies
- Never touch or feed wild or stray animals. Don't leave pet food outdoors. If you need help with a sick or orphaned animal, don't handle the animal; instead, contact a wildlife rehabilitator right away. Contact a nearby animal shelter if you encounter a lost or stray dog or cat.
- Vaccinate your pets. Rabies shots should be given by a licensed veterinarian every one to three years. Don't assume your pet is vaccinated; check records with your veterinary clinic.
- Leash your dog while walking or hiking.
- Keep all pets inside at night. Keep dogs within your sight (fenced or on leash) when they are outside during the day.
- Vaccinate pastured animals annually. Have a licensed veterinarian administer an approved large-animal rabies vaccine.
- Bat-proof your home.
Recognizing sick wildlife
- Healthy wild animals normally are afraid of humans, but sick animals often do not run away from people.
- Wildlife with rabies often will act aggressively or will violently approach people or pets.
- Some rabid animals are overly quiet and passive and want to hide. Don't bother them.
- Rabid wildlife might have trouble walking, flying, eating or drinking.