(New Rochelle, NY) — Along with this month’s unseasonably warm, dry spell comes an increased risk for contact with rabid animals, as wildlife encroaches on suburban backyards in search of food and water. That’s why the Westchester County Department of Health cautions residents to avoid direct contact with wild or stray animals, and to remind children to do the same and to tell an adult immediately if an animal bites or scratches them.
“Besides giving raccoons, skunks, coyotes, foxes, stray cats and dogs, bats and other wildlife a wide berth, to keep potentially rabid animals away from their family members and pets, residents should keep their pets’ rabies vaccinations up to date and avoid leaving pet food outdoors,’’ said Sherlita Amler, MD, commissioner of health for Westchester County.
Unusual behavior may be the first sign of rabies in an animal. A rabid animal may become either abnormally aggressive or unusually tame. It may lose fear of people and become excited and irritable, or, may appear passive and lethargic. Staggering and frothing at the mouth are sometimes noted.
Report any physical contact with a wild or unfamiliar animal to a health care provider. All animal bites or contacts with animals suspected of having rabies must be reported to the Westchester County Department of health at (914) 813-5000. After business hours, callers should follow instructions in the recorded message for reporting public health emergencies 24 hours a day.
A wealth of information about rabies and its prevention can be found on the Health Department’s website. Residents can also call the RABIES INFOLINE at (914) 813-5010 to listen to a taped message.
Animals most commonly infected by rabies are raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. However, domestic animals such as cats and dogs are also at risk because they can easily contract rabies from wild or stray animals.
Under New York State law, dogs, cats and ferrets are required to receive their first rabies vaccination no later than four months after birth. A second rabies shot must be given within one year of the first vaccination with additional booster shots given every one or three years after that, depending on the vaccine used. Owners of a pet who fail to have their pets completely vaccinated for rabies may be fined up to $1,000. A pet that is current with its rabies vaccinations would only need to get a booster dose of vaccine within five days of the pet’s exposure to a known or suspect rabid animal. Animals not up-to-date with rabies vaccinations would need to be quarantined or potentially euthanized following contact with a rabid or suspect-rabid animal.
Rabies Safety Tips
To protect yourself and your family from rabies, follow these tips:
Be prepared. Contact your town and local police department to obtain emergency numbers and information on the services your town provides.
If you are bitten, scratched or have some other exposure immediately wash the area with warm, soapy water and call your doctor or hospital. Call the Westchester County Health Department at 914-813-5000 any time for assistance.
Never feed, rescue or handle any wild animals. Avoid strays and unknown pets. Call an appropriate agency if you see sick, injured or abandoned animals. Wild animals never make good pets and baby animals can be rabid.
Never feed your pet outdoors. Secure trash and pet food in animal-proof containers.
Wear gloves when handling your pet during and after an encounter with a wild animal or some other suspect animal.
If you or your pet is exposed to a suspect rabid animal, try to keep that animal in sight until the police or a nuisance wildlife trapper arrives.
Always make sure doors and windows are secure and that any small openings that will allow an animal entrance into your home are closed off. This includes screening, chimneys, attic vents, and air conditioners.
If there is a bat in the house confine or capture it (without further exposing yourself) for possible rabies testing. Never release a bat if there is any possibility of pet or human exposure.
If your pet bites or scratches someone, confine your animal and contact the Westchester County Health Department immediately. There are a few simple procedures that must be followed so that the person injured does not require rabies post exposure treatment. You should also contact the veterinarian for your pet’s rabies vaccination records.
For more information, visit the Westchester County Department of Health’s website and follow us on Twitter at @wchealthdept or call 914-813-5000.