Wyoming’s rabies season hits full swing in the spring and summer due to higher levels of both human and animal activity, and it’s absolutely critical to protect dogs from infection. An animal infected with rabies may go days or weeks without showing any symptoms, potentially infecting humans and other animals before anyone knows something is wrong. The following are ways that any dog owner can help protect beloved pets from this deadly disease.
Vaccinate all pets
Whether it’s likely for a dog to come into contact with a rabid animal or not, always get them vaccinated. Rabies vaccines are relatively inexpensive and offer a potentially high level of protection when administered on schedule. Even inside-only animals could be at risk – Wyoming’s sparse human population and small towns mean that few places are off-limits to wildlife or other disease vectors.
Know which species are high-risk vectors
Most mammals can carry rabies, but it’s most common in scavengers and omnivores that might feed on infected animals. Wyoming issues rabies watches for certain areas from time to time, and these will usually include the species of animal(s) that had confirmed rabies. Primary rabies carriers recognized in the state by the Animal Damage Management Board include coyotes, foxes, raccoons, bats and skunks. Domestic livestock such as horses and cows can also contract rabies, as well as horses in wild herd management areas.
Ensure close supervision at all times
Vast tracts of public lands mean there are a lot of dogs going off-leash during Wyoming’s warmer months, and are likely to come into contact with wildlife. Dogs should be well-trained on recall and should never be allowed out of sight. Extend precautions during times the dog will be outside at home on a tie-out or in a fenced yard – wild animals, especially rabid, may come into towns. Bat colonies in town are relatively common. Have a vet check any bites or wounds of unknown origin as quickly as possible.
Limit or eliminate contact with at-risk animals
Never allow a dog to chase wildlife, or to approach dead carcasses. The tenacious rabies virus stays active in an animal for some time after death, so all fluids and tissues could still spread the disease. Avoid stray dogs and loose or feral cats. While hiking, recall the dog and wait or take another route to avoid wildlife on the trail. Never touch a carcass with bare hands.
Report any suspicious animal
It’s rare to see most common wild rabies vector species during daylight hours, and rare to see them near humans. Diseased animals may approach humans, look them in the eye, act disoriented or aggressive, or otherwise act out of the ordinary. These animals may walk with difficulty, and may or may not have excessive saliva around their mouths. Call the nearest Game and Fish office to report any potentially diseased wild animals, and describe the location as well as possible. Report stray domestic animals to the local animal control authority whether they show signs of disease or not.
Rabies is a very real threat in Wyoming that leads to an agonizing death for pets and humans if it’s not caught on time. Treatment is expensive and, often, administered too late. Prevention is the only truly effective way to protect dogs from rabies.