Report Of Rabid Dog A Reminder To Vaccinate Pets

Armen Hareyan's picture

Rabid Dog

A report of a rabid dog in Wheatland County has prompted state health officials to remind Montanans to protect themselves and their pets against the deadly disease.

The state Departments of Livestock and Public Health and Human Services were notified this week about the sick animal. A local veterinarian euthanized the dog Tuesday after it showed symptoms of rabies, including frothing at the mouth and walking erratically. It tested positive for the disease at the Montana State Veterinary Laboratory.

"This is the first instance of rabies in a dog in Montana since 2001," said Bonnie Barnard, surveillance epidemiologist with DPHHS. "We aren't sure where the dog got the disease, but we want to take this chance to remind people about the simple things they can do to prevent exposure to rabies. We don't want people to become complacent about it."

Fortunately, the dog didn't bite anyone, she said. But people who had close contact with the animal are being treated for rabies as a precaution.

Rabies is a deadly but preventable disease that can occur in many kinds of animals, including humans. It's caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. It's always fatal unless it's treated before symptoms appear. The virus is found in the saliva or brain of infected animals and is usually transmitted through bites or scratches.

Early symptoms of rabies in humans include fever, headache, and general malaise, Barnard said. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include trouble sleeping, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, hallucinations, agitation, excessive salivation, difficulty swallowing, and fear of water. Death usually occurs within days of the first symptoms.

On average, fewer than 20 animals test positive for rabies each year in Montana, according to the Department of Livestock. Most are bats and skunks, but domestic animals like dogs and cats can become infected if they interact with infected wild animals. Nationally, domestic animals account for less than 10 percent of reported rabies cases.


The number of human deaths due to rabies in the United States has declined from more than 100 a year in 1900 to one or two a year in the 1990s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Montana, two deaths have been recorded in the past half century; one in 1996 and another in 1997. Deaths generally involved people who didn't seek medical help, usually because they didn't realize they'd been exposed.

Health officials offered several tips to prevent rabies in animals and humans.

Vaccinate Pets

Pet owners are required by law to vaccinate their dogs, cats, and ferrets against rabies.

"This protects both humans and animals," said Dr. Jeanne Rankin, acting state veterinarian with the Department of Livestock. "If an unvaccinated pet is bitten by a wild animal and that animal isn't caught for testing, the pet will have to be destroyed or put in strict quarantine for six months."

Rankin urged pet owners to check with their veterinarian to see if their pets are up-to-date with vaccinations.

"Pets need rabies booster shots every one to three years," she said. "And don't let your pets roam, because this increases the risk that they'll come into contact with rabid animals in the wild, get infected, and then expose you."

Stay Away from Wild or Stray Animals

Never approach a wild, stray, sick, or injured animal, no matter how helpless it looks. Even stray cats can be dangerous. Keep children and pets away from them, too.

Skunks and bats are more likely to have rabies than other animals in Montana. Be careful around them