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People, pets and livestock can get rabies from animal bites or, rarely, from infected saliva getting into their eyes, nose, mouth or an open wound. Brain tissue can also be infectious and should not be handled.
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Only mammals can carry rabies. Traditionally, in Colorado, bats were the main source of rabies infections; however, in recent years the number of skunks testing positive for rabies has been rapidly increasing. Skunks now are the main source for rabies in Colorado. Other mammals can be infected with rabies from bats and skunks. Domestic animals such as dogs, cats, cattle, and horses can become infected by being bitten by a rabid wild animal.
Call your doctor immediately, and report the incident to your local health department; visit the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment website to find contact information for health departments. Treatment is available if administered in a timely manner.
The first sign of rabies is usually a change in the animal’s behavior. Animals may act more aggressive or more tame than usual. Nocturnal animals such as skunks, foxes and bats may be out during the day.
Rabid animals may stagger, tremble, or seem weak. Bats may be found on the ground, unable to fly. Rabid animals may appear agitated and excited or paralyzed and frightened. Sometimes, rabid animals do not show any signs of illness before death from rabies. If a wild animal does not run away when you approach it, it may be sick or injured. Do not try to help it. If an animal is acting strangely, stay away from the animal and call your local animal control office or the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
The only way to tell whether a wild animal has rabies is to test its brain. If a dog, cat, or ferret is alive 10 days after biting a person, the dog, cat, or ferret did not have rabies at the time of the bite.
Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system of mammals, including humans. The disease is almost always fatal to both people and animals. Skunk rabies spreads rapidly and infects large numbers of skunks. The disease often spreads to other wildlife and pets, making human exposure a real concern. Humans and animals are much more likely to come into contact with skunks because they live on the ground.
Because skunks may seek shelter and food where pets and livestock live, there is much more opportunity for the pets or livestock to interact with skunks.
It is extremely difficult to see a bat bite, even on a human who knows where he or she was bitten. Bat teeth are so small they leave almost no mark behind, but still are able to transmit saliva and rabies. Skunk teeth also are small enough that it may be difficult to tell whether a pet has been bitten. Any animal that is found unattended or in close contact with a skunk or bat is assumed to be at risk for rabies, unless rabies testing of the wild animal shows it is negative.
Keep your pets current on rabies vaccinations, and avoid contact with wildlife. A licensed veterinarian will ensure your animals are properly vaccinated by keeping the vaccine at proper temperatures, ensuring your animal is old enough and healthy enough for vaccination, and keeping proper records.
Vaccinate all dogs, cats, pet ferrets, and mammalian livestock. Reptiles and birds cannot be infected with rabies, and small rodents are unlikely to come into contact with wild bats or skunks, so such pets do not need to be vaccinated.
Animals that are kept up to date on rabies vaccination are given a "booster" rabies vaccination, and isolated at home for 45 days (if the animal can be properly confined at home). Unvaccinated pets or livestock that have had contact with a known or suspect rabid animal must be either euthanized or placed in strict isolation from humans and other animals for a period of 6 months, at the expense of the owner. These requirements are designed to protect both the family of the pet/livestock owner and the community.
Never trap and relocate wildlife! It is illegal for the public to trap and relocate skunks, foxes, and many other types of wildlife in Colorado without a permit or other approval. Contact the Colorado Division of Wildlife for information on permitted activities.