“Symptoms of rabies in cattle vary considerably. The slobbering, aggressive cow is only one way that the disease presents itself. Initial signs of the disease may be quite mild with cattle appearing depressed, not eating and isolating themselves. As the disease progresses function of some body parts decreases. This might result in the inability to swallow so that saliva is drooled, but it might also be weakness in a leg or legs or a drooping ear or head,” the report indicates.

Animal behavior may also be varied. A few rabid animals are aggressive but many are sleepy and constant bellowing or straining is also seen. Most animals affected by the disease die within a week from the time that signs are first seen.

Because the signs of rabies are not always certain, animals that don’t fit a pattern of typical disease should be examined by a veterinarian. This is especially true if any signs of the disease suggest that the brain is involved in the disease. Animals that die with suspicious signs should be taken to the diagnostic lab and the lab should be made aware of a rabies suspicion.

Officials say anyone who suspects that they have been exposed to rabies through association with rabid cattle or any other animal should seek medical attention immediately. Preventive vaccination is effective if initiated soon after exposure. Once the disease has incubated, the outcome is nearly always fatal.

Health officials say prevention of rabies in cattle is not an easy task. Vaccines are available but are so expensive that their routine use in cattle herds is not recommended unless a farm has a very high threat of the disease.

Wildlife control should be a concern for all cattle operations for rabies prevention and for other health and safety reasons. In some cases, hunting and trapping should be employed, and in all cases attempts should be made to secure feeds that would attract wildlife likely to be rabid.

While rabies is not a high incidence disease in cattle operations, the threat to the health of farm personnel is so great that a constant vigilance is required and should be practiced by all cattle workers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers this guidance to veterinarians dealing with rabies-infected livestock:

For client animals with up-to-date rabies vaccinations:

Livestock exposed to a rabid animal and currently vaccinated with a USDA-approved vaccine for that species should be revaccinated immediately and observed for 45 days.

If an exposed animal is to be slaughtered for consumption, it should be done immediately after exposure. Barrier precautions should be used by persons handling the animal, and all tissues should be cooked thoroughly.

Historically, federal guidelines for meat inspectors have required that any animal known to have been exposed to rabies within eight months be rejected for slaughter. USDA Food and Inspection Service meat inspectors should be notified if such exposures occur in food animals before slaughter.

Multiple rabid animals in a herd or herbivore-to-herbivore transmission is uncommon. Therefore, restricting the rest of the herd if a single animal has been exposed to rabies usually isn’t necessary.

For client animals without up-to-date rabies vaccinations:

Unvaccinated livestock should be euthanized immediately. If the animal is not euthanized, the animal should be closely observed for six months. Any illness while under observation should be reported immediately to the local health department.

If signs suggestive of rabies develop, euthanize the animal and ship the head for testing. Multiple cases in a herd or herbivore-to-herbivore transmission is uncommon. Therefore, restricting the rest of the herd if a single animal has been exposed to or infected by rabies usually isn’t necessary.

For more information: http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/specific_groups/veterinarians/potential_exposure.html