By Art Holliday
JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. (KSDK) - The number of animals testing positive for rabies in Missouri has increased this year.
Warm weather means more outdoor activity, leading to more encounters with rabid skunks, raccoons, and bats. That's one reason that Jefferson County veterinarian Scott Stewart finds himself providing daily advice to pet owners.
"For both human health and animal health reasons, we do recommend rabies vaccines even for cats that are inside only," he said.
Dr. Stewart was talking to sisters Debbie Richards and Karen Horn, the owners of Sophie the cat and Sam the cat. Richards says rabies is one of the reason she takes annual pet vaccinations so seriously.
"That's why we bring them in," said Horn, "to make sure they're nice and healthy and prevent anything like that."
This year, skunks are the reason for the rabies increase in Missouri. The State Public Health Laboratory in Jefferson City, where rabies testing takes place, says skunks testing positive for rabies is the highest it's been in 15 years.
"Certain species seem to be more susceptible than other species do," said Dr. Stewart. "The most common ones that we worry about in this area seem to be bats, skunks, and to a much lesser extent, raccoons."
Speaking of raccoons, "Recently we had a situation where a local person was handling a raccoon that had been acting abnormally," said Stewart. Exactly what the experts say you're not supposed to do. "If you're minimizing your exposure to wildlife that's what you want to do."
The message for all of us is that rabies can be as close as the skunk wandering near your house. The State Public Health Laboratory says three dogs, one cat, and one horse have tested positive for rabies in Missouri. Domestic animals with rabies put humans as risk.