Dog tests positive for rabies for 1st time in 45 years

Published: Mar. 21, 2019 at 10:52 AM MDT
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A dog in El Paso County tested positive for rabies after its owner bypassed veterinarians and gave the animal the vaccine themselves.

Initially, health officials were investigating the possibility the owner may have administered the vaccine to the dog themselves, instead of using a licensed veterinarian. If that was the case, depending on how the vaccine was handled, the vaccine may not have been as effected as one given by a vet.

Later Thursday evening the health department said they cannot confirm where the dog's rabies vaccine came from or who administered it.

The health department would not confirm where the animal lived, only that it was in the Monument area.

Rabies in pets is extremely rare in the United States thanks to the availability of the vaccine and strict vaccination laws. In El Paso County, all domestic animals are required by law to be vaccinated, and by a licensed veterinarian to ensure the vaccine is properly administered. Owners who decide to buy a vaccine at a store and give it themselves risk not doing it right and unknowingly leaving their four-legged family member unvaccinated.

A dog has not tested positive for rabies in El Paso County since 1974. That it has not happened in 45 years underscores how critical vaccinations are, especially in places where wildlife and humans live side by side.

“Pet owners need to understand how close the threat of rabies is to their families,” said Dr. Robin Johnson, medical director at El Paso County Public Health. “Living in Colorado, rabies is often as close as your own backyard due to the skunks, raccoons or foxes that walk through there. Vaccinating your pets is your first line of defense.”

Rabies is spread through the saliva of a rabid animal and can be transmitted from animals to people. Once symptoms start to appear, it's nearly always fatal. It doesn't only take a bite -- rabies can also be contracted when saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound, cuts, or enters through the eyes, nose or mouth.

Take these precautions to prevent rabies (info from El Paso County Public Health):

  • Vaccinate your pets against rabies by using a licensed veterinarian. Rabies shots need to be boosted, so check your pet’s records or talk to your veterinarian
  • When walking or hiking with your dog, protect them and wildlife by keeping your dog on a leash.
  • Keep cats and other pets inside at night to reduce the risk of exposure to other domestic animals and wildlife. Keep dogs within your sight (in a fenced yard, or on leash) during the day while outside.
  • Contact your veterinarian promptly if you believe your pet has been exposed to a wild animal.
  • Do not touch or feed wild animals. Wild animals like skunks and foxes adapt to residential environments if food is available – please don’t leave pet food outdoors.
  • Do not try to touch or help sick animals as they may carry diseases that are a risk to humans.

Reports of Confirmed Rabies in El Paso County, Colorado (2010-2019)

2019: 3 (dog, skunk, fox)
2018: 67 (60 skunks, 6 bats, 1 raccoon)
2017: 28 (7 bats, 21 skunks)
2016: 3 (bats)
2015: 5 (4 bats, 1 cat)
2014: 10 (bats)
2013: 8 (4 bats, 2 foxes, 2 skunks)
2012: 3 (3 bats)
2011: 15 (5 bats, 1 fox, 9 skunks)
2010: 17 (8 bats, 4 foxes, 5 skunks)