Pets-Skunks and Dogs

The Montana Department of Livestock issued a 60-day county-wide quarantine in Missoula for non-vaccinated dogs, cats and ferrets after livestock officials reported a skunk tested positive for rabies. The skunk was captured in the Wye area of Missoula on Nov. 18.

The rabies-infected skunk is the first case of terrestrial (non-bat) rabies in Missoula County in four years, according to a press release from the Montana Department of Livestock. Officials said there are no known cat, dog or human exposures at this time.

The skunk was captured after a resident noticed that it was acting abnormally and contacted Missoula City-County Animal Control.

“At this time, areas west of the Continental Divide are not known to have rabies circulating in the skunk population. However, rabies is present in bat populations in western Montana,” Anna Forseth with the Department of Livestock said in the press release.

Residents are encouraged to report any contact between a pet and a wild animal, including skunks and bats, to Animal Control or the Department of Livestock, and should contact their local health department if they come into contact with a wild animal. Residents are also encouraged to contact Animal Control if they notice a skunk, raccoon or bat acting abnormally.

Any dog, cat or ferret in Missoula that is current on its rabies vaccination is exempt from quarantine, while all non-vaccinated dogs, cats and ferrets in Missoula County are to remain in the county for 60 days. Non-vaccinated dogs, cats or ferrets may be released from quarantine after 28 days from the date of vaccination.

Rabies is a fatal disease in infected mammals, but it is preventable in domestic animals through the administration of rabies vaccine. Missoula County health regulations require that all dogs, cats and ferrets three months of age or older are vaccinated against rabies and revaccinated at designated times later in life.

“I think that this rabies case is a good reminder to all residents in the county and statewide to maintain an up-to-date vaccination status of their pets,” Forseth told the Missoulian.

Historically, rabies in western Montana is seen almost exclusively in bats. The last two documented cases of terrestrial (non-bat) rabies west of the continental divide occurred in Missoula County in September of 2015 and November of 1996.

“Rabies is spread through the saliva, so our biggest concern is that a person would get bit by an infected animal,” Forseth told the Missoulian. “There are some other potential routes of transmission but ultimately, the saliva has to make contact with a person through a bite or mucous membranes.”

Forseth said that while residents should be aware of the skunk, Missoula's bat population which is known to have rabies poses the same risk of spreading the disease.

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