Thursday, June 13, 2013

TOP STORY >> Cat from Cabot dies of rabies

By Joan McCoy
Leader staff writer

A housecat from the Hunter’s Chase area on the outskirts of Cabot died from rabies, presumably from being bitten by an infected skunk.

The cat had not been vaccinated against the disease and displayed no symptoms until the day it died, according to a press release from the state Health Department.

This is the first confirmed case of rabies in Lonoke County since 2002.

Cabot Animal Services Director Mike Wheeler said Tuesday that Dr. Susan Weinstein, the Health Department’s veterinarian, called him Monday to alert him that the department was issuing a news release about the cat that lived very close to his area. The mayor’s office asked The Leader to spread the word on the same day.

“Once we know we have active rabies in a particular area, we want the public to beware and to protect their dogs, cats, horses and livestock with rabies vaccinations,” Weinstein said in the press release from the state.

If not treated soon after contracted, the rabies virus attacks the brain and spinal cord and is fatal. The virus lives in the saliva and nervous systems of infected animals and is spread by bites or even contact between the saliva and open wounds, the eyes, mouth or nose.

And the number of reported cases is growing.

The health department says most years they test about 1,000 animals and average 50 positive cases of rabies. So far in 2013, 550 animals have been tested and with 93 positives – 87 skunks, one bat, two dogs, one horse, one cow and one cat.

All dogs, cats and ferrets in Arkansas are required by state law to be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian, Wheeler said.

Although rabies vaccine may be available at feed stores, it is not recognized by the state because documentation can’t be verified and pet owners who use it run the risk of having their pets quarantined if they are bitten, he said.

The health department says the vaccine protects pets and also acts as a barrier between the wildlife exposures of rabies and people, since pets are more likely to be exposed to a rabid skunk directly than people.

The signs of rabies include a change in behavior. Rabid animals may attack for no reason or seem unnaturally friendly.

Staggering, convulsions, choking, frothing at the mouth and paralysis are often present. Skunks may be seen out in daylight, which is an unusual behavior for them, or they may get into a dog pen or under a house.

Many animals have a marked change in voice pitch, such as a muted or off-key tone. An animal usually dies within one week of demonstrating signs of rabies.

But not all rapid animals display the common signs of the disease so avoidance of all stray dogs and cats is recommended.

The health department also recommends these steps to protect yourself from the disease:

• Be sure dogs, cats and ferrets are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.

• Do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals.

• Keep family pets indoors at night.

• Bat-proof your home or summer camp in the fall or winter. (Most human rabies cases are caused by bat bites).

• Encourage children to immediately tell an adult if any animal bites them.

• Teach children to avoid wildlife, strays and all other animals they do not know well.

•  Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to the nearest local health unit. Do not let any animal escape that has possibly exposed someone to rabies. Depending on the species, an animal can be observed or tested for rabies in order to avoid the need for rabies treatment.

For more information, call the Lonoke County Health Unit at 501-843-7561 (Cabot), or 501-676-2268 (Lonoke), or Dr. Weinstein, the state public health veterinarian, at 501-280-4136.