The Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control is urging pet owners to vaccinate their cats, dogs and ferrets against rabies after two outdoor cats tested positive for the virus in Illinois and Missouri.
“Please don’t let cats wander because you’re exposing them to wild animals that may be carrying rabies,” said Dr. Donna Alexander, administrator of the agency. Make sure pets’ rabies vaccinations are up-to-date, she said, because “even one day can make a difference.”
In the past two weeks, an adult cat in Ogle County, Illinois, and a kitten in Cass County, Missouri, tested positive for rabies, according to the CCDARC. Finding rabid cats is “unusual,” Alexander said. Typically, feral cats are not tested for rabies unless they’ve had direct contact with humans, she added.
The agency is working with the collar counties and the Illinois Department of Public Health to expand rabies testing to feral cats that would not usually be tested under IDPH protocol, including deceased cats that did not come in contact with humans.
Within Cook County, Alexander estimates there are roughly 183 feral cat colonies, which can range from two cats per colony to four to five felines. The humane societies that sponsor the cat colonies have been notified to revaccinate all feral cats.
Indoor pets, such as cats and ferrets, are still at risk of contracting rabies because the primary carrier for rabies in the state—a species known as the little brown bat—can enter a home through an opening as small as one-eighth of an inch, Alexander said.
An indoor cat could mistake a rabid bat for a mouse because the bat can’t fly, she said. “And what self-respecting housebound cat would let a mouse in the house without pouncing on it?”
So far this year 20 bats have tested positive for rabies in Cook County. “Bat rabies usually see a peak in the months of August and September,” Alexander said. “We’re just waning down as the temperatures get cooler and the bats go into hibernation mode.”
Rabies is contracted through a bite or scratch from an infected animal. It can also be transmitted when an infected animal’s saliva comes in contact with the eyes, mouth or nose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Skunks and raccoons can also transmit the virus.
While rabies can be treated in humans through the use of post-exposure vaccinations, there isn’t an equivalent vaccine for animals, Alexander said. “Unfortunately, animals are euthanized because they’re too dangerous.”
This underscores the importance of “making sure the animal does not go remiss on its vaccination,” she added.
CCDRAC officials are urging residents not to approach unknown or stray cats outside and to exercise “extreme caution” in approaching unattended animals—whether wild or domestic.
Anyone who sees an animal acting abnormally, such as one that is circling or wobbling, should call the CCDARC at 708-974-6140.
Follow Kristen Thometz on Twitter: @kristenthometz
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