BLUEFIELD — Packets containing oral rabies vaccine were dropped from Saturday until Monday over southern West Virginia counties including Mercer and McDowell, and more are scheduled to be dropped Aug. 24 to 31; pet owners with dogs and cats that were recently vaccinated for rabies were being advised to be cautious.
The Wildlife Services (WS) program of the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plan Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is working with the West Virginia Department of Health to place oral rabies vaccine baits in the state.
Distributed by dropping them from airplanes, helicopters or cars, the baits are covered with a strong fishmeal favoring or sweet vanilla wax. These favorings are designed to attract raccoons, possums, skunks and coyotes and vaccinate them against rabies.
Dr. Mark Freeman, a veterinarian with the small animal clinical faculty at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, said that based on the publicized information he has read, the baits are designed to be appealing to wildlife “so they use really potent fish scent and favouring.”
“Naturally, that’s going to be appealing to our pets as well, but the product, the way it was designed and the carrier the vaccine is in, is pretty benign,” Freeman said. “It’s not something that would be toxic or cause any health problems or concerns.”
However, since the baits are appealing to animals, it’s possible that dogs or cats that find any might eat several of them, leading to an upset stomach or diarrhea, he added.
“My first recommendation, if you think your pet has ingested any is to contact your veterinarian,” Freeman said. “And if you think your pet has ingested several of them, take them to the vet and see if they can induce vomiting to get (baits) back up.”
Freeman was told about one case in which a dog that had recently been vaccinated against rabies had died after consuming a rabies vaccine bait. This could have been from “a really abnormal immune response” or an allergic reaction to something in the bait or the vaccine, he said.
A pet that has had an injectable rabies vaccine could have a response if they ingest oral rabies vaccine, Freeman said.
Pet owners who are concerned about their dogs or cats eating the rabies vaccine baits should keep their pets confined or on a leash for two or three days after baits have been dropped, Freeman said. Raccoons and other wildlife find and eat them quickly due to their strong fish odor.
Checking yards for vaccine baits before letting pets out is another precaution owners can take, he stated.
More of the oral rabies vaccine baits are scheduled to be dropped from Aug. 24 to 31. The oral vaccine baits are about the size of a matchbox.
People who find the oral rabies vaccine baits should leave them alone unless they are found where children or pets play. To move the baits, safely, the following precautions should be taken:
• Wear gloves or use a paper towel or plastic bag when picking up the baits.
• Toss intact baits into a wooded area or other wildlife habitat.
• Bag and dispose of any damaged baits in the trash.
• Take precautions by practicing proper hygiene including washing with soap and water any skin or wounds that may have had contact with ORV baits, especially if the bait was damaged.
If a pet eats a bait:
• Contact your veterinarian if you have any questions.
• A few baits are not harmful, but eating a large number of them may cause an upset stomach, according to the USDA.
• Do not risk getting bitten or exposed to the vaccine by taking a bait away from a pet.
• Check the area for more baits and relocate any remaining baits to a wooded area.
• If a pet eats a bait, avoid its salvia from 24 hours and wash skin or wounds that may have been licked.
The Rabies Information Hotline can be reached at 304-558-5358.
For additional information concerning rabies or the ORV program, visit https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/programs/nrmp or contact WS toll free at 1-866-4-USDA-WS (1- 866-487-3297).
— Contact Greg Jordan at [email protected]