Rabies is a disease that isn’t discussed in relation to cattle often. It’s more commonly associated with cats, dogs, and wild animals, however, cases of rabies are on the rise in cattle herds throughout Kansas. According to officials at Kansas State University in 2015, 13 cases of rabies were confirmed in cattle, in 2014 only 9 cases were identified.
“In Kansas the past two years, cattle have been the most common domestic species we’ve diagnosed with rabies,” says Gregg Hanzlicek, director of production animal field investigations for the veterinary diagnostic laboratory at Kansas State University.
He says while many animals don’t show symptoms right away animals are infected through saliva. Hanzlicek says rabies virus is different than most other viruses because it doesn’t live in the bloodstream but travels through nerves from the infection.
“Let's say an animal is bitten on its back leg,” Hanzlicek says. “Rabies will travel through the nerves of the back leg to the spinal cord, and then from the spinal cord, it will go to the brain. When it gets into the brain is when we start seeing the clinical signs.”
He says the virus spreads further from there. Once it’s in the salivary glands it spreads to another animal or human with every bite.
According to the CDC symptoms can include:
- Behavioral changes
- Head pressing
- Continually trying to defecate
- Unexplained rear-limb lameness
When to Call a Vet
“If I am a producer, and I see a behavioral change in one of my animals, I will put rabies on the list of possible causes and call a veterinarian,” Hanzlicek says. “Veterinarians can help identify rabies, but also most veterinarians are vaccinated for rabies. They know what precautions to take to avoid contamination when examining the rabies suspect animal.”