Posts Tagged ‘skunks’

Historically dogs are most commonly associated with biting humans and transmitting rabies. It is now clear that in the U.S. cats are more often diagnosed with rabies than dogs. The number of verified cases of rabies in cats has increased and now there are three times as many cat cases reported compared to the diagnosis in dogs.

The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) says that approximately 34-37 percent of families or individuals with pet cats do not take those animals to a veterinarian. The likelihood of those animals being vaccinated to prevent rabies is low to nonexistent. At least a third of all cats not vaccinated? That is a troubling statistic made even more so by cat owners who do take their animals to a veterinarian but have failed to have them vaccinated against rabies.

This is not a rare disease. In 2010 fewer cases of rabies were reported compared to previous years in the U.S. but there were 6,153 cases in animals from 48 states and Puerto Rico verified. Raccoons were most commonly diagnosed (36.5%), skunks (23.5%), bats (25.2%), foxes (7.0%) and the rest in other species including some rodents. Domestic animals accounted for 8% of all verified cases and we still have 2 or 3 cases in humans every year. Last year a woman in Maryland died following a kidney transplant from a donor who was apparently incubating the disease. Other patients that received organs from that donor received preventive care and are, apparently, not affected. Rabid animals can and do come into contact with our pets, especially cats allowed outside. Imagine the response of your cat to a rabid bat, not able to fly, flopping around on your lawn.

The rabies virus is a member of the Lyssavirus genus of the Rhabdoviridae family and survives in both wild and domestic species including farm animals. When I was in veterinary school we were often reminded that exposure for veterinarians was most commonly due to suspecting “choke”, an object lodged in the esophagus of a bovine that prevents the animal from swallowing, when the animal actually has rabies. When I worked for the U.N. for a year in the veterinary school at the Autonomous University of Mexico I almost fell victim to this. Students were handling a cow that was profusely salivating, even putting their hands in its mouth. I almost did the same before remembering what had been drummed into us. We isolated the cow that developed other signs of rabies within hours, died and rabies was confirmed on necropsy. Most veterinarians today have received preventive vaccination for rabies, at least I hope they have.

New oral vaccines for rabies have recently been developed and distributed in bait. This program has successfully reduced the incidence of rabies in rural areas of the U.S., Canada, France and other environments. A serious outbreak of rabies in raccoons in the Mount Royal park area of Montreal, Canada was brought under control using this resource.

So, … get your cat vaccinated. With Halloween soon upon us a bat could fly into your house, your cat pounces on it, gets bit and then you get exposed when your cat bites you.

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I extended my hand and the boy with red hair, a wide grin, no front teeth, and lots of freckles took it and pumped once up then down.

“What’s in the sack, Billy?” I asked.

The boy opened the top of the feed sack and showed me a small, shiny black animal with a stark white stripe the length of its back.

“Billy found the baby skunk and he wants to keep him for a pet. What do you think? If we de-scent him, will he make a good pet? I told him I don’t do that kind of surgery, but I was pretty sure you could handle it,” Dr. Schultz smiled.

I joined Dr. Schultz’ veterinary practice only two months previously, directly after veterinary school graduation. I thought I remembered the description of the procedure from a surgery class. I held out my hand and Billy handed me the sack.

“OK Billy, I’ll take good care of him. However,” I squatted directly in front of the boy, “a de-scented skunk is still a wild creature, not like a dog or cat. Do you understand? You will have to be careful around him when he grows up or he might bite you. Otherwise he will make a wonderful pet.”

“I’m going to do this out in the barn. If I nick one of his scent glands, it will stink up the whole hospital. Dick, have we got an old ice chest we can use for an anesthetic chamber?” I asked Dick Mathes, our technician.

Dr. Schultz and Dick followed me to the barn, Dick carrying a hard-used ice chest.

“You ever even seen one of these done,” asked Schultz?

“Nope,” I replied.

I poured ether onto a wad of cotton, dropped it into the ice chest, opened the sack, dropped the baby skunk into the chest and closed the lid. I listened carefully until the skunk stopped moving around, lifted the lid and gave the animal a poke. He didn’t move, but was breathing deeply and regularly, so far, so good.

“Dick, do you suppose you can find some plastic sandwich bags?”

“I expect so. What do you need them for?”

“We’ll need something to put the scent glands in.”


I took the anesthetized skunk out of the ice chest and arranged him on the surgical table, on his belly with his tail tied up over his back. I added ether to a cone designed for a small cat and placed it over the skunk’s muzzle then clipped the entire area around the anus and prepared the skin for surgery.

“Well, the glands are where they’re supposed to be at five and seven o’clock,” I said. “But he’s a she.”

I found the papilla on the right side, clamped it with a mosquito forceps and dissected the gland. To my surprise it peeled out whole, the duct held closed by the forceps.

“As soon as I remove the clamp you need to close up the baggie,” I told Dick.

I deposited the sac in the plastic sandwich bag that Dick held open for me. Only a whisper of scent escaped before the bag was sealed closed. The other sac also came out intact but when I tried to drop it into a second bag, it stuck to one of the jaws of the forceps. I gave the forceps a shake to flip it off. The gland missed the bag and landed directly on the left instep of my new rough-out boots. Skunk fragrance filled the barn. My eyes watered. Dr. Schultz and Dick beat a laughing retreat into the clinic slamming the door behind them.


I tried washing off the boots with the high-pressure hose we used to clean the barn but that did very little to abate the odor. Over the next two weeks, I washed them several times in tomato juice but whenever I walked into a restaurant, or some other warm place, people started sniffing and looking around, the boots were history.

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