Veterinarian offers advice after rabies confirmed in Montana

Rabies 2021
Posted at 3:44 PM, Apr 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-15 17:44:36-04

GREAT FALLS — The Montana Department of Livestock announced on Monday that it has received confirmation of the first case of terrestrial (non-bat) rabies in the state this year.

A puppy in Big Horn County was euthanized and tested for rabies due to the presence of neurologic signs.

The Montana Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory confirmed rabies in the dog and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed the skunk variant of the rabies virus in the animal.

Because of the risk of exposure to the puppy, several people in Big Horn County, including children, are undergoing post-exposure prophylaxis and three dogs have been euthanized.

"Positive rabies cases in dogs are a grim reminder of the need to maintain current on vaccinations of our domestic pets,” Dr. Tahnee Szymanski with the Department of Livestock said in a news release.

MDOL has issued a 60-day county-wide quarantine in Big Horn County for dogs, cats, and ferrets that are not currently vaccinated for rabies. The quarantine is in effect until June 5, 2022.

Rabies is spread through contact with saliva from an infected animal, most commonly by being bitten.

Dr. Michelle Richardson with Big Sky Animal Medical Center in Great Falls says the best way to protect your pets is to make sure they get their rabies shot.

In Montana, the first rabies vaccine is good for one year. Subsequent vaccines are good for three years, Richardson said.

She also encourages people not to handle wildlife, especially young wildlife, as they are common carriers of rabies.

"Any time any animal shows neurologic signs - changes in behavior, changes in their gate, the way they move - it's certainly a concern, especially if it's an animal that's not vaccinated,” Richardson said.

Rabies can spread to humans and is almost always fatal when it does.

If you suspect you or your pet has rabies or has been exposed to a rabid animal, call your veterinarian and your county health department.

There were 20 reported cases of rabies in Montana last year; five of them were terrestrial (non-bat).

Click here to read more about rabies on the CDC website.