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Pet Cat in Boone County Dies of Rabies

Case is 100th for the state this year. Pet owners reminded to keep cat and dog vaccinations current.

LITTLE ROCK, AR - A pet cat in Boone County has died of rabies.

The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) says it's the 100th rabies case of the year.

According to an ADH news release, the cat's owners reported it had been in a fight with an unidentified animal last month and they had been nurturing the cat back to health. They told officials the cat was not aggressive until a few hours before it died. Health officials say that is unusual since many rabid animals display aggressive behavior several days before death.

More from the release:
"We've seen a high number of rabies cases this year," Gary Wheeler, MD, Branch Chief of Infectious Disease at the Arkansas Department of Health said. "This case drives home the point that people need to have their family pets vaccinated, because of the contact and exposure this family faced."

The 100 rabies cases includes: 91 skunks, 3 bats, 2 cats, 2 dogs, 1 cow and 1 horse. These numbers are expected to increase through the rest of summer and into fall. Pet owners are encouraged to make sure all cats and dogs are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations. Vaccinating pets helps to act as a barrier between wild animals, such as skunks, and pets such as dogs and cats. This barrier helps protects humans from rabies. Cats and dogs should receive rabies vaccinations by a licensed veterinarian beginning at 4 months of age.

"We don't realize how often our pets have the opportunity to come into contact with wild animals, especially skunks and bats, so make sure your pets are current on their rabies vaccinations. This protects your pets and your family," Wheeler said.

Rabies is a deadly virus that attacks the brains and spinal cord. It is most often seen in animals such as skunks, bats and foxes. The rabies virus lives in the saliva, or spit, and nervous tissues of infected animals and is spread when they bite or scratch. The virus may also be spread if spit from an infected animal touches broken skin, open wounds, or the lining of the mouth, eyes or nose. Dogs, cats and other domesticated animals like horses and cattle can be infected through bites or scratches from rabid skunks.

Arkansas state law requires all cats and dogs receive a rabies vaccination, given by a licensed veterinarian, beginning at 4 months of age. A booster is also required one year after the initial vaccine. Over-the-counter rabies vaccinations available at feed stores may not be a reliable vaccination source and do not count under the Arkansas Rabies Control Act of 2010.

The first sign of rabies in an animal is usually a change in behavior. Rabid animals may attack people or other animals for no reason, or they may lose their fear of people and 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. Not all rabid animals act in these ways, however, so you should avoid all wild animals--especially skunks, bats and stray cats and dogs.

If you think you have become exposed to an animal with rabies, wash your wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately. Contact your doctor and county health unit immediately and report the incident. The animal in question should be captured, if possible, without damaging its head or risking further human exposure.

Children especially should be reminded not to touch wild animals and to stay away from stray pets. If an apparently healthy domesticated dog or cat bites a person, it must be captured, confined and observed daily for 10 days following the bite. If the animal remains healthy during this period of time, it did not transmit rabies at the time of the bite. The brain tissue of all wild animals must be tested for rabies if human exposure has occurred. 

What can you do to protect yourselves against rabies?
  • Be sure your 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 (The majority of 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
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.

Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to your local county health unit.

Click here for more information about rabies.
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