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Skunks, dogs, rabies and a stinky, eventful afternoon

Posted Friday, April 8, 2011, at 10:42 PM

Brenda at the Bedford County Health Department knows what I am about to discuss. After working with me through several phone calls this afternoon she commented that if I wrote something, I should emphasize the importance of pet owners keeping their pet's rabies shots up-to-date and taking rabies seriously. Even in the city.

Why talk about it now? Well, our dogs had a second close encounter with a local skunk and this time all of us came out on the losing end. Two weeks ago, at night, the girls had a run in and we were reminded every day with 'essence of skunk', but today they had their run-in at about 1:30 in the afternoon and that is unusual for a nocturnal animal like a skunk.

What was it doing out in the day? Was it rabid?

The skunk paid for it with his life, but the payment is not over yet. Our dogs may or may not have been bitten in the encounter. We see no signs but even saliva can transmit the disease so we had to be on immediate alert.

Fortunately, their shots were up-to-date but just barely. They were due for boosters this month. That is not a sure thing, so we are going to have to watch them for 45 days to see of they get lethargic, moody, or lose their appetite. If so, it is almost a sure death sentence.

We took them for booster shots immediately. Have you ever taken a ride with three dogs who have been sprayed by a skunk in the cab of a truck? We did not look forward to it, but luckily they just had residual odor. None had been hit directly. The bulk of the spray hit the side of our house. Oh joy!

In addition, we wanted to get the skunk tested for rabies soooo, the head had to be sent to the lab in Nashville. Our vet was extremely busy so he asked if we could detach he head and bring it in. Cut off the head? No problem, Deb cuts up steak all the time.

Yeah, right! You KNOW who got that job. Since I used to hunt, fish and trap, it really wasn't a big deal but still not one of my high points (nor the skunk's but he was already gone). It had to be bagged in four separate bags before Deb would allow it in an ice cooler for the trip, but all worked out.

By the way, if you ever have to do it, don't get blood on you and put it on ice as soon as possible. The brain is what they test, so don't get carried away with an axe, or at least be accurate. Sorry about the details, but it might save you $40 if the vet does not have to do it for you. (Guess it is not one of their favorite things either)

A repeat of the main points of this post? Keep your pets rabies shots up-to-date and avoid nocturnal animals that are out in the day, or any animals that are acting unusual, slobbering or unusually aggressive.

I had to dispatch a coon who was at our goldfish pond a few years ago. He was obviously rabid and only had a day or two left, so it was more humane to end his life swiftly. He got to be buried in our pet cemetery, if that is any consolation.

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I had to dispose of what I thought was a rabid coon a few months ago too. A few days later, I was talking to a vet who I found out worked with wildlife resources in southern Kentucky & she told me that in this area skunks are more likely to be rabid but coons are more likely to have distemper. The visual symptoms; salivation, drunken & disoriented behavior etc... are the same for both diseases. Since rabies is a weak virus & dies within a few days of the host's death, burial 3-4 feet deep in a sealed plastic bag is all that's necessary with a rabid animal. It is my understanding that distemper is a much stronger virus & will go dormant if buried, waiting to be dug up & spread again. A distemper infected animal must be burned to kill the virus. Fortunately, distemper is not normally deadly to humans but it is to pets & farm animals. Hope this helps.

-- Posted by bjrbrts on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 4:27 PM

That helped in two ways. One, I did not think about distemper. IS their a vaccination for that?

Secondly, it reminded me to put a rock on top of the area I buried the skunk. Right now there is a huge tree trunk but it would not stop digging from the side.

-- Posted by stevemills on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 5:42 PM

If your dogs have had their Annual DHLPP shot-they are protected from distemper. DHLPP is Distemper, Hepatatis, Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza, and Parvovirus.

-- Posted by ckna910 on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 7:54 PM

Aah, I never paid attention to what the DHLPP stood for.

-- Posted by stevemills on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 8:06 PM

Glad it helped. Most people - myself included - don't think about distemper. I wound up going back & burning the coon.

-- Posted by bjrbrts on Sun, Apr 10, 2011, at 9:11 PM

Today is the day that we should hear something about the skunk. I sure hope it was just out on a harmless "walk-about".

-- Posted by stevemills on Mon, Apr 11, 2011, at 9:33 AM

Well.., it took a little longer but we got the word back, the skunk WAS rabid.

Now our dogs have a 45 day observation period since they were on shots but the one most at risk is PITA because she has only had two shots in her lifetime. If she had had 3 there probably would not be the same concern but ......

She is also the one who was throwing the skunk around so she surely was exposed. Now all the threats I threw her way seem tiny, but nothing we can do but wait.

-- Posted by stevemills on Thu, Apr 14, 2011, at 4:29 PM

One way I have found to keep pets from digging up a former pal ( or even to keep rabbits out of green beans/ garden) is to sprinkle red pepper flakes all over the area. I knew a family who had a dog that kept trying to retrieve his pal from down under, and this did the trick real fast. I'm trying it now to keep the cat from making a potty of my flower bed. (hope it works there too lol)

-- Posted by wonderwhy on Thu, Apr 14, 2011, at 6:54 PM

There is a company that has developed a tablet that can be buried next to plants that make the plant. tree or shrub taste like red pepper.

I will create a separate post so people who are not interested in rabies will see it.

-- Posted by stevemills on Fri, Apr 15, 2011, at 7:22 AM

Sorry your dogs are having to go thru that. Mine thinks her shot time is a social event & is current on all of them but I wouldn't want that for her either. Any time a wild animal acts in an unusual manner for its nature, suspect the worst & either get away or take other defensive measures before it has a chance to attack/harm you. Some wild animals actually do become familiar with humans & marginally friendly but unless you have personal knowledge of a specific animal, don't assume those cute furry critters are friendly. You will always come out on the losing end of the encounter. Hope your dogs learned their lesson too.

-- Posted by bjrbrts on Sat, Apr 16, 2011, at 10:35 PM

I too hope they have learned a lesson but they were probably defending the house and apparently this skunk was coming straight to it since it was cornered at the very front of it. Peeuuu!

A YouTube video criticized a police officer for macing a baby squirrel that kept coming toward a group of school children. Apparently squirrels are not prone to rabies but I am sure he did not want to find out later that it was, so squirt!

The squirrel survived and was relocated, but even if it was not rabid, rodents can have a nasty bite and can transmit other diseases so you are 100% right, avoid them or take defensive measures.

-- Posted by stevemills on Sun, Apr 17, 2011, at 9:19 AM

I saw that video. The "experts" criticizing the officer should try handling a squirrel before commenting; it can be quite painful. More than once I've surrendered my tree stand to a curious squirrel & would rather fight two men than one squirrel, especially in a tree. Btw, healthy wild skunks can be friendly & have a personality similar to a ferret once they warm up to you but I still don't recommend petting them. I like the people who fawn(no pun intended) over deer - one of the most aggressive wild animals I've ever encountered; & my dog agrees. She was guarding my house & the doe took exception. At least I won that fight & the dog leaves them alone now. She did play with a "striped kitty" once too - only once. The smell was so bad I dreamed about it for two days.

-- Posted by bjrbrts on Sun, Apr 17, 2011, at 7:48 PM

So far the dogs are all behaving as normal.

As most of you who read this blog know, that means something different when it comes to PITA, but I find myself being more tolerant with the fear of her contracting a fatal disease.

In all fairness, she is also moderating her actions, so if all goes well, she should prove to be a good member of our family.

Boy, I am getting soft!

-- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Apr 20, 2011, at 1:41 PM

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Steve Mills and his wife have one daughter. They previously owned two coffee/ice cream shops, currently operate an internet sales company and teach classes, but his primary job involves the paper industry worldwide. Hobbies and interests lie in gardening, photography, recorded music and of course, their pets.