Pet Tales: Be wary of strays and rabies

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A stray kitten in Mt. Lebanon tested positive for rabies, according to results received May 6 by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

The kitten's mother so far shows no sign of the deadly disease, but a state veterinarian has recommended that she be euthanized and tested for rabies. The deadly virus that attacks the brain cannot be diagnosed when animals are alive. However, the two people who took the mother cat and kitten into their Cedar Boulevard home have refused to follow that recommendation.

"We can't make them" kill the cat, said Erin Moore, veterinary medical field officer with the state Department of Agriculture. The cat is quarantined in the home for 180 days and Ms. Moore, a veterinarian, will be monitoring the cat's health and making visits to make sure it is kept inside.

Officials with the state agriculture department and the Allegheny County Health Department would not identify the people or give their exact address. Ms. Moore said the cat and kittens had been living in or near Bird Park.

"This is a wake-up call for why it's a bad idea to take stray animals into your home," she said.

This story is horrifying in any case, but forgive me if I make this "about me," for my family lives on Cedar Boulevard. What are the chances? Our cocker spaniel Pablo is up to date on all his shots, but could he be attacked by the animal that transmitted rabies to the kitten? Is a rabid animal still prowling MY neighborhood?

Here's how the story unfolds:

Last winter, Cedar Boulevard residents noticed a stray cat, but no one brought it into a home, said health department spokesman Dave Zazac. In March, the cat gave birth, outdoors, to four kittens. Several weeks later someone noticed that three of the kittens had been attacked and killed -- apparently by an animal. The fourth kitten was alive but had injuries, including puncture wounds.

That's when two residents took the kitten and mother cat into their home, and took the kitten to a veterinarian for treatment. About two weeks later the kitten quit eating, so the two people tried to force-feed it. The kitten became lethargic and was dragging its hind legs, which were paralyzed. On the recommendation of their veterinarian (whom officials are not naming), the kitten was euthanized and tested. Results showed it had rabies.

The couple that fed the kitten are receiving expensive, painful shots that will prevent rabies if administered before symptoms appear, Mr. Zazac said.

Ms. Moore picks up the narrative:

The kittens were attacked and mauled by "a rabid carnivore, probably a raccoon," she said. While all mammals, including people, can get rabies, it is usually spread by carnivores because they attack and bite other mammals. Typically the disease is spread when the saliva of the rabid animal enters a wound or a break in the skin.

Rabies symptoms can appear in two weeks to 180 days, but usually show up in four to six weeks, which is why Ms. Moore will be watching that mother cat. Victims of rabies generally die about 10 days after symptoms appear, she said. Hopefully, the animal that transmitted rabies to the kitten has died from the disease.

Here's more bad rabies news. Since January, 132 animals in Pennsylvania have tested positive for rabies: 91 raccoons, eight cats, two cows and two dogs.

One of the rabid dogs lived in Beaver County. The owners found a dead skunk in the doghouse, and a short time later the dog, which had not been vaccinated against rabies, started acting strangely, crouching and stalking the other family dog, Ms. Moore said. The dog was euthanized about two months ago and tests revealed it had rabies.

There is a happier ending for another dog.

A black Labrador retriever is alive and well after fighting with a raccoon on the Montour Trail, near McDonald, on April 19. State and county officials put out a widely reported alert, asking the owner of the dog to contact them because the raccoon was rabid.

The owners heard the alert and reported that the dog had been vaccinated against rabies. Officials recommended that the dog get booster shots as a precaution.

Rabies cannot be cured once symptoms appear, but the disease can be prevented with inoculations. By law, dogs are required to be inoculated against rabies.

Cats only have to be inoculated if they spend any time in a house. This means that feral cats and outdoor cats, including the barn cats of farmers, are exempt from the law. Unfortunately, they're not exempt from getting or spreading the deadly disease. Last year, 56 Pennsylvania cats tested positive for rabies, according to state statistics.


Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064.


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