Virginia's State Vet Warns About Rabies

Several rabies cases in wild and domestic animals have been seen in Southwest Virginia.

Published on: Jan 20, 2011

Believing there is an increased incidence of rabies in livestock in the western part of the state, administrators with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are recommending for livestock owners to consult their large animal veterinarian about the need for rabies vaccination and other disease management strategies.

"The Virginia Department of Health monitors rabies cases," says state veterinarian, Richard Wilkes, "and they tell us there appears to be increased incidence of rabies in livestock in the western part of the state. In Botetourt County, VDH has placed dairy cows on one dairy under observation for six months due to exposure to several rabid cats."

Unless treated early, rabies is 100% fatal in humans and animals. The disease can also be transmitted from animals to humans. "Each year in Virginia, eight to ten cows and one or two horses are confirmed with rabies," notes VDH public health veterinarian, Julia Murphy, "and occasionally rabies is confirmed in other livestock such as sheep."

Unvaccinated livestock that are exposed to rabies are typically observed for six months or additional cases of rabies. Exposed vaccinated livestock are observed for 45 days. During this observation period, animal movement on or off the farm is restricted. 

Rabies vaccines are available for certain livestock. VDACS and VDH encourage livestock producers to talk with their veterinarians about these vaccines and consider using them as part of their herd health program. Properly vaccinating not only decreases the chances of infection and death, but it also decreases the period of time that animal movement is restricted following exposure.

"The reduced time for observation for vaccinated livestock may be a prime motivator for many farmers to vaccinate their animals," Wilkes says.

Additional protective measures include not adopting wild animals as family pets and being on alert for wild animals that exhibit abnormal behavior.

Farmers should report animals that exhibit rabies-like behavior to their local health department and their veterinarian.

Symptoms include aggressive or combative behavior, high sensitivity to touch and other stimulation, lethargy, weakness in one or more limbs, the inability for the animal to raise its head or make normal sounds.

Learn more about rabies at