A 16-week-old puppy in Pennington County tested positive for rabies on Friday, September 21, 2018.
Around July 1, the rabid puppy, a male Blue Heeler/Black Labrador Retriever, was attacked and bitten in the hind leg by a skunk while still at the breeder’s home in Marshall County. The breeder shot the skunk and did not submit it for rabies testing.
Around July 15, the puppy went home with a new owner in Pennington County. On September 5, the puppy suffered a head injury while playing. On September 12, the owner brought the puppy to a veterinarian for evaluation. During the visit, the puppy was vaccinated against rabies. When leaving the clinic, the owner noticed the dog was limping on his right-hind leg and appeared disoriented.
On September 13, the puppy’s lameness progressed to involuntary movement of the limb. The veterinarian also noted excessive panting, decreased appetite, and a fever. The puppy was treated for a suspected vaccine reaction with anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines.
The puppy continued to develop progressive signs of neurologic disease and was examined at another veterinary clinic on September 14. The attending veterinarian inquired about the puppy’s history and learned about the skunk attack in July. The puppy was isolated at the clinic and his health continued to deteriorate. Two days later, he became overly responsive to stimuli and was unable to stand. The puppy was euthanized on September 17.
The owners drove the puppy’s body to the North Dakota State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for rabies testing on Monday, September 17. The laboratory issued an interim report on Tuesday, September 18, stating the official rabies fluorescent antibody test was negative.
A necropsy was performed and additional microscopic evaluation revealed inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. Due to those additional findings and concerns regarding potential human exposure, the laboratory repeated rabies testing. A second rabies fluorescent antibody test and an unofficial rabies Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test were positive, and rabies was confirmed on Friday, September 21.
The Minnesota Department of Health contacted 35 people who were potentially exposed to the puppy and 19 exposed people were recommended to receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.
The Minnesota Board of Animal Health conducted follow-up site visits to assess animal exposure. An unvaccinated, three year old Blue Heeler/Black Labrador Retriever male dog had a history of close contact with the puppy. He was vaccinated against rabies on September 17 and quarantined by the Board on September 21 for 180 days from the date of last known exposure to the puppy. The dog appears healthy at this time.
The puppy’s littermate, who did not have observed exposure to the skunk is reported to be healthy and is scheduled to be vaccinated against rabies this week.
This case is an important reminder for animal owners to report abnormal observed interactions between wildlife and domestic animals immediately to a veterinarian and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. The puppy had an unusually long incubation period of over two months, illustrating the variability that can occur. Additionally, when rabies test results are negative and the animal has exhibited classic clinical signs of rabies (and has a history of skunk exposure), additional rabies tests may be requested to verify results. All dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses should be vaccinated against the rabies virus. In the event pets are exposed, or potentially exposed, rabies vaccine should be administered within 96 hours of exposure.
For additional information on rabies in animals and to view a map of positive cases in Minnesota visit the Board’s website at this link. For questions on rabies exposure to domestic animals call 651-201-6808. If you have questions concerning rabies exposure in people, please contact the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5414.