Rabies in Livestock

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While you might not think about rabies occurring in livestock, it happens each year. If you think about it, most livestock species are very curious about new things in their pasture and that could be a rabid animal such as a skunk, raccoon, or fox. It is important to understand what to look for and what to do if you suspect rabies.

First of all, livestock are not required to be vaccinated against rabies, however, it is recommended. Especially if livestock are used in petting zoos, riding/lesson programs, and/or if they are highly valuable. Animals that are required by North Carolina law to be vaccinated against rabies include dogs, cats, and ferrets. Rabies vaccines can only be administered by a licensed veterinarian, certified vaccinator, and registered veterinary technician that is supervised by a licensed veterinarian.

Symptoms in cattle will vary greatly. Symptoms to look for include: strain to defecate/urinate but fail, yawning, bellowing, hind leg incoordination/weakness, and drooling- dehydrated and can’t drink. Furthermore, cattle with rabies can be described in the following forms: dumb form (depression, off feed, head pressing, inability so swallow), violent form (distinct bellowing, charging, head pressing, wild-eyed), and paralytic form (inability to stand/move, usually seen right before death).

Rabies symptoms in equine: lameness, poor coordination, dazed, difficulty swallowing, focus on bite wound, aggression, and paralysis. Rabies symptoms in sheep and goats: behavioral changes (nervous, aggressive, etc.), off feed, frequent bleating (and change in sound), difficulty swallowing, muzzle tremors, straining to defecate, and paralysis.

The incubation period varies from 3 weeks to 6 months or more. Majority of animals die within 4-7 days. If you suspect your animal has been bitten by a rabid animal and it has been vaccinated there are three options: (1) re-vaccinate within 5 days with a 45-day quarantine, (2) 6-month quarantine, or (3) euthanize. If your animal has been bitten by a rabid animal and it has not been vaccinated there are two options: (1) 6-month quarantine (conditions determined by N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services) or (2) euthanize.

Protocol for Submission

First, contact local animal control or health department. The local animal control/health department will then contact the NC Department of Health and Human Services and they will contact NCDA&CS Veterinary Division. You will then complete the proper forms and submit the head to NCDA&CS Veterinary Division.

Take-Home Message

If something strange is going on with your livestock and/or equine don’t forget rabies is in our area and should be something to consider when looking at symptoms. Always consult with your veterinarian for guidance when trying to diagnose your animal.

For more information about rabies please visit: Rabies