Rabies is a viral zoonotic disease of animals and humans that is caused by the rabies virus, a member of the Lyssa virus genus. The virus is present in the saliva and nasal secretions of infected animals and transmitted through the bite of infected animals. Carnivores (skunks, raccoons, foxes and dogs) and bats are the primary vector species. The classical sign of rabies in wild animals is loss of fear of humans.
Rabies is considered to be one of the oldest diseases in history and has a worldwide distribution. Only a handful of countries are free from infection with the virus, which include Australia and New Zealand. Due to the availability of a vaccine, rabies in cattle is relatively uncommon. However, cattle that aren't vaccinated against rabies are sensitive and susceptible to the disease. In addition, there is no effective treatment once a cow is infected. The disease is 100% fatal to all infected animals, including humans. Vaccination of the cow prior to exposure is the best form of protection.
Rabies is typically passed in the saliva from a bite wound from a rabid animal. The virus is shed at high levels in infected animal saliva 2-5 days before they present with clinical signs and throughout the course of the disease.
The incubation period for rabies in cattle varies from 2-12 weeks depending on what part of the body is bitten.
In cattle, clinical signs can be very variable with symptoms being both general and similar to other diseases that affect the cow’s nervous system. This makes rabies very difficult to diagnose. Clinical signs are progressive from onset until death which is usually a 10 day process. The average survival time is 5 days.
Cattle suspected of having rabies should be handled with care, and all those in contact with the cow should wear protective gear including eye goggles, face shields/masks, and gloves during interaction with the animal.