OWYHEE COUNTY, Idaho — A cat from Owyhee County has tested positive for rabies. It was tested at the Idaho Bureau of Laboratories in the last week after it was behaving aggressively and bit its owner. This is the first rabid cat detected in Idaho since 1992 and the first rabid animal from Owyhee County in 2019.
No part of Idaho is considered rabies-free. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the cat was infected with a strain of rabies virus associated with bats. So far this year, 10 rabid bats and one rabid cat have been reported from across the state.
“Rabies, a virtually 100% fatal infection in people and animals, can affect our pets, putting the risk of this deadly disease right at our doorstep. Although most bats do not have rabies, it is likely that the cat was exposed to a rabid bat, thus contracting the infection” said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, state public health veterinarian for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW). “This is a stark reminder that rabies is present in Idaho. Owners are encouraged to vaccinate their dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses. Sometimes cats are overlooked when it comes to vaccination; whether they are barn cats or strictly indoor cats, they should all be vaccinated against rabies as bats often find their way into barns, outbuildings, and homes.”
Southwest District Health staff, in collaboration with IDHW, are working to assure exposed people are receiving the proper medical attention, including vaccinations. They are also working with the cat’s owners and the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to be sure other potentially exposed animals on the property are managed appropriately.
Although most bats do not have rabies, infected bats are the main source of rabies exposures in Idaho. The fall months can bring an increase in bat interactions with people and pets because many bats begin migrating to warmer climates.
People bitten by any mammal, including cats and bats, should wash any wound thoroughly with soap and water and call their healthcare provider promptly to discuss the need for immune globulin and vaccinations; rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (rPEP). rPEP given to people soon after a possible or confirmed rabies exposure is extremely effective in preventing this deadly disease.
Parents are encouraged to talk to their children about the importance of not touching bats or other wild or unfamiliar domestic animals, because doing so can have serious medical consequences. Animal owners should contact their veterinarian immediately if they suspect their pet has been exposed to a rabid animal. They will need a booster even if the pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date.
To protect yourself and your pets, IDHW offers the following tips:
• Keep your pets’ rabies vaccinations up-to-date. Pets may encounter bats outdoors and in the home. Rabies vaccination is also a routine recommendation to protect horses.
• Talk to your veterinarian if your pet suddenly begins acting strangely; rabies is just one of many possible reasons for a behavior change.
• Do not touch a bat with your bare hands.
• Avoid bats to the best of your ability. If you have had an encounter with a bat (bite or scratch), seek medical attention immediately.
• If you believe you were bitten or scratched by a bat, save the bat in a container without touching it and contact your public health district to ask about testing the bat for rabies.
• Bat-proof your home or cabin appropriately. To learn more about the best way to bat proof homes: click here.