Rabies prevention for pets and people

Posted at 6:11 PM, Jul 03, 2024

GREAT FALLS — The Cascade City-County Health Department (CCHD) confirmed last week that a bat in Cascade County has tested positive for rabies.

The CCHD said that a person was bitten on the east side of Great Falls. The bat was stunned while being removed, and the person collected it and took it to a veterinary clinic for euthanasia.

The animal was then sent to the state lab in Bozeman for testing, and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) was provided for the bite victim.

Bats and skunks are the most likely carriers of the rabies virus in Montana, and approaching or feeding them should be avoided.

To prevent bats from entering your home, put screens on all windows, doors, and chimneys. Avoid touching dead bats and dispose of them with gloves or tools, and refrain from approaching wild animals.

Additionally, the city of Great Falls requires all cats and dogs older than four months be vaccinated against rabies, with cats being especially susceptible.

Kelcy Allestad, a veterinary assistant at the Maclean-Cameron Animal Adoption Center, said, “Rabies is spread through saliva, bites, stuff like that. If they're bit by an animal that has rabies, they're at risk for it. So just having the rabies vaccine in general gives them a good start to being protected. And then if they are bit by an animal that may have rabies, it's really important to start that treatment immediately.”

Rabies prevention for pets and people

While vaccines are the most effective way to prevent rabies transmissions in your pets, they can be ineffective at times, so contact your veterinarian as soon as you suspect your pet has been exposed to rabies.

Bites from wild or domestic animals that penetrate the skin, along with scratches that have come into contact with their saliva, are considered potential rabies exposures.

A bat entering your home may also be a potential rabies exposure, as their bites can puncture skin without being noticed.

If you think you or your pet have potentially been exposed to rabies, contact a healthcare provider immediately.

If you get bitten or scratched by an animal:

  • Immediately wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and warm water, and also use a viricidal agent such as iodine.
  • Seek medical attention and report the exposure immediately.

The CCHD provided this information to prevent and appropriately respond to a rabies exposure:

  • Do not feed or handle wild animals, especially bats. Bats and skunks are the most likely carriers of the rabies virus in Montana and should be avoided. Bats are especially concerning because their teeth are so small that a bite may not be noticeable, and people are sometimes bitten in their sleep without knowing it.
  • Avoid animal bites from domestic animals. Do not approach unfamiliar animals, and always request the owner’s permission before petting an animal.
  • Do not attempt to help a sick or injured wild animal.
  • Vaccinate dogs and cats against rabies. Rabies vaccinations are required by law, and all dogs and cats should have a current rabies certificate. Cats are especially susceptible to rabies.
  • Bat-proof your house. Put screens on all windows, doors, and chimneys to prevent bat entry. Visit our website for information on safely catching a bat in your home.
  • Know what to do if there’s a bite. If someone is bitten by a domestic dog, cat, or ferret, the animal can be observed for signs of rabies, almost always avoiding the need for treatment. If an animal cannot be located, observed, or tested, a person may need to undergo a series of immunizations to prevent rabies. If you are bitten, call a healthcare provider or CCHD immediately.

There are several species of bat that call Montana home, including: Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus); Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus); Silver-haired Bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans); and Townsend’s Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii).