When you think about rabid animals infecting dogs, you probably think of Old Yeller (bitten by a rabid wolf) or Cujo (bat bite). But now Northern California dog guardians are being warned of a new menace, the rabid skunk.
According to El Dorado County Animal Control spokesperson Jennifer Hamburg, statewide drought conditions have sent rabid skunks out of the woods they normally stick to, and into more populated Northern California areas.
“They are charging after people’s dogs,” Hamburg told KPIX, saying that in past years, she's only seen five to seven rabid skunks the entire year. However, this year she says seven have been reported in the last three months alone. That makes 2014 a possible banner year for the ailing beasts, who are heading into cities in search of food and water.
Rabies is almost always fatal to humans or animals that are infected, but swift treatment following exposure can drastically minimize the chances that they'll fall ill. It's important that all pets that go outside be vaccinated for rabies (all Pet Food Express locations offer low-cost, walk-in vaccinations for your dog or cat), but even then if your pet is exposed, you should take them to the vet immediately.
According to the CDC, rabies symptoms in animals include "lethargy, fever, vomiting, anorexia, cerebral dysfunction, cranial nerve dysfunction, ataxia, weakness, paralysis, seizures, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, abnormal behavior, aggression, and/or self-mutilation," so if you see any animals demonstrating those traits, steer clear.
If you're exposed, you should also seek medical attention straight away. While human fatalities due to rabies are rare, those who do contract the illness do so because they didn't realize they were exposed.