The Department of Environmental Management has received positive confirmation of the state's first case of rabies found in a coyote. Last weekend, the Department received a report of a dead coyote on private property in Warwick. A DEM environmental police officer retrieved the animal and brought it to the Department of Health Laboratory for testing.
A joint investigation by state public health veterinarian Scott Marshall, DVM and Warwick Animal Control has found no human health exposure to the coyote. Last week, prior to the dead coyote being found, Warwick Animal Control received a report of an incident in the city involving two pet dogs and a coyote, in which the coyote was injured and seen limping away. After viewing photographs of the dead coyote, the dog owner indicated that the coyote that confronted the dogs was lighter in color and therefore not the same animal that tested positive for rabies. The dogs are current on all vaccinations and received rabies boosters following the incident with the coyote.
Although coyotes are not target species for rabies, the disease has been detected on rare occasion in coyotes. In 2005, there was one confirmation of rabies in a coyote found in Massachusetts. In Connecticut, four coyotes have tested positive for rabies since 1991, compared to 4,300 raccoons that tested positive in that state during the same timeframe.
DEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife advises Rhode Islanders that coyotes may often be seen in suburban neighborhoods in search of food, particularly during late winter and early spring. Coyotes that find abundant food sources around neighborhoods may become bold, especially if they are accustomed to handouts.
To avoid encounters between your pets and coyotes or other wildlife, avoid feeding outdoors if possible. If you do feed outside, remove food dishes after your pet has eaten, do not put bread or other table scraps out for birds or squirrels, and avoid putting meat and, if coyotes are already habituated in your area, other potential foods in compost piles. Avoid putting trash out the night before trash day, and always make it secure. Coyotes can be frightened away by loud noises such as whistles, shouting, banging on a pot, or tossing something in their direction.
Keeping cats and small dogs indoors is the best possible way to protect them from encounters with coyotes or other wildlife.
This positive rabies finding serves as a reminder to all Rhode Islanders that rabies remains prevalent throughout the state and that residents should continue to undertake sensible precautions. Those include: vaccinating pets, staying away from wildlife, securing garbage, and not leaving pet food outside.
Rabid animals have been found in every community in Rhode Island, except New Shoreham. Target species include skunks, raccoons, foxes, woodchucks, and bats. Of the 167 rabies-suspect animals tested at the RI Department of Health (HEALTH) between January-June of this year, 20 were found to be rabid. Thirteen of those animals were raccoons, and six were skunks. Rabies was not found in any animals tested from Warwick.
Rabies virus is widespread among wildlife in Rhode Island. The rabies virus is transmitted to humans through exposure to the saliva of a rabid animal. Rabies is an infection of the brain and nerves and is fatal in humans when untreated; however, treatment of humans soon after exposure is effective in preventing rabies infection.
Protecting pets from rabies helps to maintain a barrier between humans and rabies in wildlife, and, under state law, dogs, cats, and ferrets must be regularly vaccinated against rabies. Vaccination takes place before any exposure, for, according to the Centers for Disease Control, protocols for the post-exposure vaccination of previously unvaccinated domestic animals have not been validated, and evidence exists that use of vaccine alone will not prevent the disease. The vaccination is available at any veterinary office.
Animals that act aggressively or are noticeably sick should be reported to the DEM Division of Law Enforcement at 222-3070 or to your local animal control officer.
For more information on rabies, visit the DEM website, www.dem.ri.gov