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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care June 2006

Hi Folks,

Now that the warm weather has hit, many of the wild creatures are also moving about and living out their lives in the nearby woods. Please be advised that there were three rabies cases that I knew about locally in the last month. This is a surprisingly high amount, in my experience, in just a few short weeks here in springtime. Rabies is a viral infection that can sometimes take anywhere from 20 days to 6 months to incubate in the victim. Once it shows itself clinically, there is no way to reverse the course of the disease. The end result is always death. The common signs are episodes of odd behavior (aggressive or depressed), overly friendly activity for a wild animal, odd vocal sounds, reluctance or inability to drink water, and salivating/drooling/foaming at the mouth. Once the signs are observable, the animal will die in about 5-10 days. There is no recovery with rabies - so if an animal is displaying these symptoms, but then improves, it isn't rabies.

The usual animals in our area that are carriers are raccoons, skunks and bats. As a licensed veterinarian I get a complete listing of all tested rabies positive cases in Pennsylvania counties yearly. The entire listing usually includes a couple dogs, cats, a cow or two, a horse, a mule, a few opossums and maybe a ground hog - in addition to scores of raccoons and skunks. Bats are hard to catch to test. If bitten by a bat, assume it is rabid and seek medical attention. Any nocturnal animal (animal that is usually active at night) that is seen active in the daytime should be considered as a possible infected animal. One time at noon when I was sitting by the Octorara creek around the corner from where I live, a bat was flying overhead. Not good. Another time during the day I saw a raccoon doing back flips in a recently harvested corn field. Last summer, at midday, a raccoon came within 10 feet of my front porch, making really weird noises and odd backwards jumps right near my cat, which was about 3 feet away from it. I quickly took a metal bucket and threw it at the coon and off it went. But I was on high alert the rest of the day and carried a baseball bat around with me in the yard. Never did see that coon again, but I told the neighbors to stay on alert.

Pennsylvania state law requires that all dogs be vaccinated against rabies, as well as domestic cats. However, barn cats are exempt since the PA Farm Bureau successfully lobbied to keep them exempt since it would be too costly for farmers to spend the time and labor to gather them up to get vaccinated. And yet as we all know, it is those barn cats that may come up against a wild animal trespassing in the barn. The recommended vaccination for ALL dogs is for their first shot no younger than 3 months of age, then a booster a year later, then every three years thereafter. I carry vaccine for dogs and cats (it's the only small animal vaccine that I carry) and will gladly vaccinate your farm dogs and other animals if you would like. State law mandates that a licensed veterinarian administer the vaccine for the animal to be considered officially vaccinated. However, licensed kennel owners can get permission to vaccinate their own dogs if they have been shown to properly do it by their veterinarian. There is no state law requiring a veterinarian to administer the vaccine to farm production animals like cows and horses. You can vaccinate your own cows and horses, if you feel inclined. Hardly any farmers do this locally but in other states they do.

If a vaccinated dog or cat gets into a fight with a raccoon or skunk (or whatever wild animal) that wanders into the barn, barnyard or farmstead, we immediately re-vaccinate your pet. You need to call me to do it and you need to do it quickly - not a week later when you get around to doing it. Usually people get frightened, and rightfully so, when there is odd behavior by a wild animal in the yard. Boosting the initial vaccine will kick the antibodies into high gear and protect your pet. Those antibodies were created from the first vaccination. If, however, your pet was not vaccinated, it must stay in strict quarantine for 6 months, so it can be determined if your pet will come down with the virus or not. Unfortunately, most farmers will not do a strict quarantine and the unfortunate animal is put to sleep. A previous vaccination would have prevented that.

If there is human exposure to an animal that tests to be rabies positive, the state public health department will come to your farm and figure out who needs to get the post exposure series of shots. These will save the life of the person who has accidentally gotten any bit saliva or blood of the rabid animal into any nicks or cuts on the skin. If I am involved, as I was when putting a yearling heifer down a few years ago that tested to be rabies positive, I also got a booster shot (the same as would a properly vaccinated dog) since I am already vaccinated due to my line of work. (And no, I myself don't have any papers and tags!)

Remember that vaccinating for rabies is state law. A rabies vaccination paper is NOT the same as a county dog license. They are separate but both are required by law, otherwise you could face some pretty stiff fines by the Dog Officer. The dog tags that I dispense after vaccinating a dog have my clinic name and phone number on it so that if your dog wanders off, the person who finds it can call me and I can look up the record and say who it belongs to. This has helped reunite dog and owner half a dozen times in the last year. The more important piece of evidence to have is the piece of paper that I fill out that proves the dog was officially vaccinated. This is critical in case your dog bites someone.

Rabies is entirely preventable by being vaccinated. It is one of the few vaccines that I urge to be used, not only because it can prevent such a dreaded disease but because it is also state law.

Ben M. Stoltzfus, 648 Cambridge Rd, Honey Brook, has 4 cross-bred Normandie-Jersey heifers for sale. 717-768-3437

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