Rabies in Colorado

Rabies spreads primarily through the bite of rabid animals. It usually is fatal in humans once symptoms appear. Preventive treatment is available if administered soon after exposure.

What animals are most likely to have rabies?

  • Only mammals can carry rabies. Bats and skunks are the main sources of 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.

How does an animal or person become infected with rabies?

  • 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.

How do I know if an animal has rabies?

  • 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 contact your local health department. 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.

Why are there concerns about skunks and rabies?

  • 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. Because skunks live on the ground, humans and animals are much more likely to come into contact with them than bats. Skunks may seek shelter and food where pets and livestock live, making contact more likely.

How will I know if a skunk or bat has bitten one of my animals?

  • It is extremely difficult to see a bat bite, even on a human who knows where he or she was bitten. Bat bites leave almost no mark behind but can spread 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 was not infected.

What is the best way to avoid rabies?

  • Keep your pets up to date on rabies shots, 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.

Eight ways to protect yourself and your family

  1. Do not feed, touch, or adopt wild animals, and be cautious of stray dogs and cats. Rabid animals do not always appear vicious!
  2. Teach children to leave wildlife alone. Be sure your child knows to tell you if an animal bites or scratches them.
  3. Have your veterinarian (or local animal shelter) vaccinate your pets and livestock against rabies. Keep their vaccinations up to date.
  4. Tightly close garbage cans and feed bins. Open trash and feed bags attract wild or stray animals to your home or yard.
  5. Feed your pets indoors; never leave pet food outside as this attracts wildlife.
  6. Keep outdoor pets in a fenced yard.
  7. Avoid all contact with bats, especially bats found on the ground. If you find a bat on the ground, don’t touch it. Report the bat and its location to your local animal control officer or health department.
  8. Call your doctor right away if an animal bites you. Contact your local health department to report the incident.

Which animals should I vaccinate against rabies?

  • 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 and do not need to be vaccinated.

What will happen if my pet is bitten by a rabid animal?

  • Animals that are kept up to date on rabies vaccination are given a “booster” rabies vaccination and observed at home for 45 days (watched for disease symptoms). Pets that haven't had their shots and have had contact with a known or suspected rabid animal must be either euthanized or placed in strict isolation from humans and other animals for a period of four months, at the expense of the owner. These requirements are designed to protect both the family of the pet/livestock owner and the community.

Should I trap skunks on my property and move them?

  • 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 Colorado Parks and Wildlife for information on permitted activities.