GROVE CITY, Pa. — A vaccinated dog may be your best insurance against rabies on your farm.
Dr. Karen Martin, a veterinarian with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, said cattle out on pasture are at risk for rabies because of the potential for exposure — partly because of their curiosity toward creatures in the pasture and partly because they are accessible to wild animals that may have rabies.
Martin spoke during the Northwest Project Grass Grazing meeting Dec. 15 in Grove City, Pa.
According to the PDA, Pennsylvania is ranked first in the United States for domestic animal rabies for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010. It has ranked fourth and in 2010 fell to the fifth spot for the total number of confirmed rabies cases in all animals.
Pennsylvania is found to have the raccoon strain of rabies.
Curiosity. Martin said rabies can start out in cattle as a bite in the face or nose, as they are being curious toward other animals that wander into the pasture.
The dangerous part of rabies is that it is not the blood of the animal that can spread the disease, it is in the saliva.
Martin said that no matter how small of a bite an animal or bat may give, it should be taken seriously.
There are three ways the disease can be transmitted: a direct bite, a scratch or even exposure to an open wound.
However, the symptoms of rabies may not appear for at least a month or two during the incubation period. Martin added that if the animal with rabies bites another animal especially near the face or head, it has a lower incubation period.
Martin said the dog is good insurance because it can wander around the property checking for animals that should not be there. And if an animal is found, then the dog, if vaccinated, will take care of the animal and run it off.
The veterinarian also talked about an unusual cluster of rabid cattle in Eldred, Pa., in McKean County. The cluster was discovered in November 2010 on a single farm.
A total of four cattle tested positive for the raccoon strain of rabies. There probably were five head with rabies, but only four could be accounted for once symptoms began.
Martin said the farmer had no known history of a bite or of a strange animal in the pasture.
The cattle had been found down in the hind limbs, but were still eating and drinking, and were still mobile using their front limbs.
But the one thing missing on the farm, Martin said, was a dog.
“If you have a vaccinated dog. I’m probably not going to be talking to you,” Martin said.
“Get a dog and keep its vaccinations up to date. It’s the best move you will make,” said Martin.
Another risk factor Martin has found in almost all cases of rabies she has investigated, is a stream in sight of where the animals are kept.
Something Martin suggested to the group is to get an animal tested if rabies is suspected. She added that it is free.
If someone wants to submit a specimen for testing, they should be very careful with the animal, Martin cautioned. Only the head is necessary for testing, but if you are going to remove it, be sure to use gloves and try not to touch the animal directly, so as not to come in contact with saliva.
Martin also recommends vaccinating cattle on the farm with 2 cc of the rabies vaccine and also consider vaccinating outside cats with the vaccine (1 cc) to prevent them from catching the virus and spreading it.
2010 Pa. rabies cases
Pennsylvania is ranked first in the United States for domestic animal rabies for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010.
— 217 raccoons
— 56 cats
— 29 bats
— 25 foxes
— 7 cows
— 6 deer
— 5 horses
— 4 dogs
— 410 total rabid animals in Pa.
Source: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture