Wildlife is best left in the wild

CDPHE is urging Coloradans to take precautions against rabies

June 21, 2018

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – Garfield County Public Health is urging residents to let stray and wild animals be, check their pets’ vaccination status, and take other precautions to avoid rabies.

In the past month, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) laboratory has seen a rapid increase in the number of bats submitted for rabies testing. All the bats that have been tested interacted with domestic pets, people, or were found in spaces where humans reside; four collected last week tested positive for the disease. Since 2007, four bats have been found carrying rabies in Garfield County.

Bats are very active right now, and some of them may be carrying the rabies virus. Sara Brainard, nurse manager with Garfield County Public Health, said that many people release bats, or destroy them before they can be properly tested for rabies.

“We want to stress that if you come into contact with a bat, and there is a chance you could have been bitten, we need the animal, preferably dead, in order to test it for the disease,” she said.

Nanci Limbach, executive director of the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation near Silt, offered a cautionary message about approaching other forms of wildlife.

“Bats tend to be the primary carrier of rabies on the Western Slope. However, this time of year people come across baby animals in the wild and want to bring them home and even let their children play with them because they are a cute little something,” she said. “But these are wild animals and they belong in the wild, or with the proper authorities. This is for the safety of both people and the animal.”

In Garfield County, animals such as young foxes and coyotes have had to be euthanized because humans handled the animals, and were scratched, bitten, or exposed to saliva through an existing cut or wound. If you are concerned about the welfare of an animal, contact your local animal control or the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“We never know if an animal has rabies until it is tested,” Brainard said. “Because rabies is nearly always fatal in humans once symptoms appear, we don’t take any chances. When people realize that an animal has to be euthanized in order to be tested, they wish that they had never handled the animal in the first place.”

Animal experts at the Schneegas Wildlife Foundation have updated rabies vaccinations, and the proper training to handle wild animals.

“We tell people, ‘don’t pick them up, don’t keep them, call us.’” Limbach said. “We have the proper training and we are here to help.”

To avoid rabies:

  • Don’t touch or feed wild or stray animals, and never leave pet food outdoors. If you see a sick or orphaned animal, do not touch it; instead contact the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control at 970-945-0453, or Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) at 970-947-2920.
    • For questions related to potential rabies exposure or rabies testing, please contact Garfield County Public Health in Rifle at 970-625-5200, or Glenwood Springs at 970-945-6614.
  • Vaccinate your pets. Use a licensed veterinarian, and make sure you keep up with pets’ booster shots. Unvaccinated animals exposed to rabid wildlife must be placed in quarantine for 120 days or be euthanized. This can be avoided if the animal has been vaccinated.
  • Keep cats and other pets inside at night. Keep dogs within your sight (in a fenced yard or on leash) during the day while outside.
  • Vaccinate pastured animals annually. Have a licensed veterinarian administer an approved large-animal rabies vaccine.
  • Bat-proof your home. Information is available at cdc.gov/rabies/bats/management.

Recognizing sick wildlife:

  • Many healthy wild animals are normally afraid of humans; sick animals often do not run away when spotted by people.
  • Wildlife with rabies may act aggressively, or will approach people or pets, and may act in a violent manner.
  • Some rabid animals are overly quiet and passive, and want to hide. Don’t bother them.
  • Rabid wildlife might have trouble walking, flying, eating, or drinking.