Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory (WSVL) scientists are urging pet owners -- especially those in Laramie and Goshen counties -- to have their pets vaccinated against rabies.

Forty-one of 66 tests of animals from the two counties this year have been positive, says Myrna Miller, a virologist with the University of Wyoming’s WSVL. Thirty-seven skunks and one fox from Goshen County, and three skunks from Laramie County have been positive. All have been from the South Central rabies strain.

“It is important for pet owners to vaccinate their pets against rabies,” says Miller in the Department of Veterinary Sciences, which manages the WSVL. “Even if the animal does not usually have contact with wildlife, rabid skunks and foxes have been known to climb into outdoor dog kennels and attack large dogs and even humans.”

Miller advised pet owners to contact their veterinarians if rabies is suspected and report all animal bites to their doctors.

Most cases of rabies in Wyoming have been in skunks and bats, but other animals include cats and dogs, horses and cattle, and squirrels and foxes, she says.

Rabies symptoms can include lethargy, fever and vomiting, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Signs progress within days to cerebral dysfunction, cranial nerve dysfunction, ataxia, weakness, paralysis, seizures, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, abnormal behavior, aggression and/or self-mutilation.

If tests are positive, the WSVL informs the Wyoming Department of Health, the CDC, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in cases of wildlife, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The South Central rabies strain is displacing the North Central strain, which dominates the Dakotas, Nebraska, Montana and northern Wyoming, says Ken Mills, veterinary sciences professor in the WSVL. The South Central strain was dominant in Colorado and appeared in the Cheyenne area in 2011. It is displacing the North Central virus.

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