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Rabies and the seasons

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Sheriff Will Travis 2015I know it’s hard to believe right now, but spring will soon be upon us.  This will bring with it a rash of skunk sightings and more raccoons will be out. So please make sure your pets are vaccinated to reduce the risk of them contracting rabies if they encounter a rabid animal.

Bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes have traditionally been the terrestrial animals most often infected with rabies in the United States, although raccoons have been more susceptible to distemper, so make sure to have your pets vaccinated with the DHLPP vaccine as well. However, the aggressive use of oral rabies vaccination programs for coyotes and gray foxes, which began in selected strategic areas of Texas during 1995, has greatly decreased the risk of domestic animals and humans becoming infected with the rabies virus via these wildlife species.  Rabies continues to be an issue in skunks in Texas and the number of skunks that test positive for rabies varies cyclically. Field studies are being conducted on oral rabies vaccination efforts for skunks.

The signs of rabies among wildlife cannot be interpreted reliably because primarily nocturnal animals are out during the day during spring and fall mating seasons; therefore, unless you are bitten, this is not a threat.  If you, or your pet, are bitten, you should notify Animal Control immediately, and seek medical attention.  Because the rabies virus attacks the brain, rabid animals often display unusual or unnatural behavior. However, many animals have different habits at different times of the year, and some even exhibit threatening behavior to scare you off, and not as a sign of rabies.

For example, skunks walk around with their noses to the ground, always looking for bugs and other tasty snacks.  Once a skunk does take notice of you it will likely throw its tail up in the air and stamp its front feet.  This is the first alert warning.  It is telling you, “I see you there, now go away.”  This is where smart people calmly leave the scene.  If you stay, what happens next is the skunk will do a short charge then stomp and drag, charge, stomp and drag.

The skunk is trying to scare you away, and you should listen to it and leave casually. This is normal behavior and not a sign of rabies aggression. If the perceived threat does not heed its warnings, then it gets really mad and starts doing hand stands.  The skunk will do a short charge, stomp, hand stand holding its back end into the air hoping this will be scary enough to make you leave.  If this still has not scared away the predator or you, then the skunk will turn itself in a U shape, viewing its target to take aim and open fire.

Some of the signs of rabies include:

* Wild animals acting unusually tame or unafraid of approaching people.
* Nocturnal animals such as skunks and bats that are active during the day.  However, there are some things to remember when you see skunks out in the spring and fall.
* The majority of skunks who are seen in the daylight are hungry mothers.  During baby season their feeding habits are reversed.
* At nighttime the den is more prone to predation than during the day so the mother stays in at night to protect her litter.
* When her kits are old enough at about 5 to 6 weeks old she will lead them out with her to start teaching them how to hunt for bugs.
* After the kittens are weaned at about 8 weeks old, the family begins to develop a more natural sleeping and eating pattern.
* Bats which are unable to fly or have been caught by a domestic pet.
* Pets that are having trouble walking, drinking or eating or display a change in temperament.
* Aggressive Behavior
* Drooling
* Lack of Appetite
* Excessive Sleeping

If you feel you have encountered an animal with rabies, please contact animal control at 940-349-1600.  All canines and felines are required to be vaccinated, and Texas accepts the one-, two-, and three-year shot.

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