SHERIDAN — For many, the saying “man’s best friend” is more than a saying; it is a way of life. Pets from dogs and cats to horses and rabbits can be your closest companions and often someone you would do anything to protect.
But even as medical and technological advancements have given four-legged friends longer and healthier lives, if your pet contracts rabies, there is nothing that can be done.
“If your animal is scratched or bitten by an animal you do not know and can’t contain for testing, you assume it is rabid and need to quarantine your animal and watch for symptoms,” Dog and Cat Shelter Executive Director Debie Crawford said. “The ultimate outcome, if they’re bit by something that’s rabid, they’re going to die.”
Rabies is a virus that infects the central nervous system ultimately causing disease in the brain and then death.
Though there is a treatment for rabies, it is reserved for humans who contract the virus and for animals the only “cure” is prevention.
This is why Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory scientists urge pet owners to have their pets vaccinated against rabies.
WSVL virologist Myrna Miller said in a press release “even if your animal does not usually have contact with wildlife, rabid skunks and foxes have been known to climb into outdoor dog kennels and attack even large dogs and humans.”
Skunks account for the majority of wildlife that tested positive for rabies in Wyoming from November of 2013 through April — 41 of the 43 cases — with the other two being one cat and one fox.
This number indicates rabies is on the rise as a total of only 34 rabid animals were confirmed in Wyoming in 2010.
Though rabies are most often transmitted through a bite, pets can also be infected by drinking from pools of water after an infected animal.
Outdoor cats that roam free are of particular concern, though the 21 pets that were quarantined or euthanized after exposure to rabid animals so far this year have all been dogs.
The most important thing to do is watch for symptoms.
In animals, the most common symptoms are nervousness, agitation, aggression and unusual behavior. Cattle develop a hoarse bellow, drooling, abnormal swallowing and other conditions. Horses show abnormal posture, signs of colic and wobbliness of their hindquarters.
Foothills Veterinary Services veterinarian Shawn Tatman said often these symptoms and the hypo-salivating that accompanies them can lead pet owners to believe the animal has something obstructing its airways, causing them to insert their hand in the pet’s mouth to attempt to clear its throat.
“Anytime you’ve got an animal that is not quite right, don’t put your hand in its mouth,” he said. “This is one of the ways in which humans contract rabies from their pets.”
Early symptoms of rabies in humans are similar to other illnesses and include fever, headache and general weakness, which then progress to insomnia, anxiety, confusion, agitation, fear of water, partial paralysis and more.
Though death usually occurs within days of the onset of the symptoms, early detection and treatment can save the human’s life.
Because preventing the spread of rabies is more of a public health concern than just a pet health concern, the state mandates how often rabies vaccinations must be given.
Furthermore, the city of Sheridan mandates dogs living in city limits be licensed and proof of current rabies vaccination must be provided to receive a city license.
This week is the Dog and Cat Shelter’s Rabies Clinic week at Kendrick Park and since 2008 this clinic has administered 3,980 rabies vaccines to dogs, cats and ferrets.
Licensed veterinarians and a team of volunteers have been gathering in the band shell until 1 p.m. daily to offer shots and licenses.
The clinic, which ends tomorrow, offers the rabies vaccines for a discounted price — compared to a visit to a vet’s office — of just $10.
A city license can be purchased for $10 for spayed and neutered dogs and $15 for intact animals after the shot is administered or upon presenting a current rabies certificate, not just a prior rabies tag or city license.
Crawford said the benefits to adhering to the licensure policy are numerous.
“If your dog gets loose and is picked up by animal control and not licensed you will receive a fine of $45. If your dog bites someone, they will know it is vaccinated and not have to go through being quarantined. Also, it is a good tracking mechanism, especially if the dog is not micro-chipped, to make sure they make it back home to you,” she said.
The vaccine administered at the clinic is approved for dogs, cats and ferrets but horses, cattle and other pets need to see a veterinarian for their vaccines.
“The vaccine is great, it’s highly effective,” Tatman said. “No vaccines are 100 percent but I don’t know of a lapse in its effectiveness ever.”
Editor’s note: Press reporter Alisa Brantz is a board member of the Sheridan Dog and Cat Shelter.