Take steps to prevent the spread of rabies in pets and wildlife

BURLINGTON, Vt. – As we all spend more time outdoors and encounter wildlife, health officials are reminding Vermonters to take precautions against rabies.

Both people and pets may come into more contact with wild animals this time of year as days get longer and warmer. The best thing to do is leave wildlife alone and enjoy them from a distance.

Pets should be vaccinated for rabies. State law requires dogs and cats to be vaccinated – even barn cats. Health officials noted a recent case of rabies in a barn cat from the town of Addison, which likely became infected from contact with local rabid wildlife.

Rabies is a deadly viral disease of the brain that infects mammals and is fatal to both humans and animals. In Vermont, rabies is most commonly found in wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, and woodchucks. Cats, dogs, and livestock can also get rabies if they have not been vaccinated for rabies.

“When cats are allowed to roam, they can become infected, and then have the potential to transmit rabies to other domestic animals and people off the property,” said State Public Health veterinarian Natalie Kwit. “By vaccinating these cats, we can prevent this spread.”

The rabid cat from Addison was euthanized, which is required to test for rabies. A person identified through a risk assessment is being treated to prevent rabies.

If an animal bites you: wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and contact your health care provider. Follow all their instructions.

If your pet or farm animal was exposed to a potentially rabid wild or stray animal, contact your veterinarian.

If you see a wild or stray animal acting strangely, or are concerned about a rabies exposure, call the Rabies Hotline, 1-800-4-RABIES, or report it to your town’s animal control officer.

Do not touch or pick up wild or stray animals – even baby animals – or try to make them into pets. Doing so can put yourself or your family at risk of exposure through a bite or a scratch. You can’t tell if an animal has rabies just by looking at it. Interacting with young wildlife may result in them being orphaned or, if tested for rabies, requires humanely euthanizing the animal. So, for their own sake, leave wildlife in the wild.

The rabies virus is spread through the bite of an infected animal. Rabies is transmitted only when the virus is introduced into a bite wound, open cuts on the skin, or onto mucous membranes like the mouth or eyes.

People cannot get rabies from simply petting or touching animals, or from contact with the animal’s urine, blood, or feces. When caring for pets, always feed them inside the house and keep them indoors at night. If they are outdoors during the day, keep them on a leash or in an enclosed space. Pets that roam free are more likely to be exposed to rabies.

Learn more about rabies in Vermont at www.healthvermont.gov/rabies.

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