Updated: Oct 12, 2019
When we decided to share our lives with goats, we spent almost two years reading and researching goats. When it came to their vaccines we read a lot on vaccines, prevention and diseases of goats.
One of our concerns was that children at times visit our farm and we wanted to ensure our animals would not pose a threat of any disease if a child were to be bitten and we wanted to be able to protect our goats. Were rabies even possible for goats to be infected with? We needed to find out more information.
We found a lot of differing opinions on vaccinating goats for rabies.
We turned to University Extension Services at Michigan State, Cornell University, Langston University, we read a couple of research papers and a published study by the American Veterinary Medical Association and spoke with our veterinarian to learn more.
Rabies is a virus that is excreted in the saliva of infected bats, foxes, coyotes, skunks, raccoons and even domestic dogs and cats. Anyone living on a farm that owns dogs, cats, sheep, goats, alpacas and even cattle - all can become infected.
I'm certain that most farms and homesteads have one or more carriers of rabies traverse on their land. Understanding the disease and risks can help in the decision making process to vaccinate your animals or not.
We began by trying to find out if goats could actually contract rabies. We found that there was information on just that reported by the The American Veterinary Medical Association , in the last online report released in 2018, that report stated that "During 2017, 52 jurisdictions reported 4,454 rabid animals to the CDC, representing a 9.3% decrease from the 4,910 rabid animals reported in 2016. Of the 4,454 cases of animal rabies, 4,055 (91.0%) involved wildlife species. Relative contributions by the major animal groups were as follows: 1,433 (32.2%) bats, 1,275 (28.6%) raccoons, 939 (21.1%) skunks, 314 (7.0%) foxes, 276 (6.2%) cats, 62 (1.4%) dogs, and 36 (0.8%) cattle. There was a 0.4% increase in the number of samples submitted for testing in 2017, compared with the number submitted in 2016. Two human rabies deaths were reported in 2017, compared with none in 2016."
Since the American Veterinary Medical Association report began publishing the reports in 2002, there have been on average annually, 11 confirmed cases of rabies in sheep and goats in the United States. It was further noted that the actual cases of infected sheep and goats is likely higher as the diagnosis and testing may be lacking. We were surprised to learn that sheep and goats could be infected with rabies.
Early signs of rabies in sheep and goats include lack of appetite, fine muscle tremors, lameness, posterior paresis (loss of use in back legs) and impaired coordination or ataxia. Goats may have a marked increase in sexual activity, aggression, teeth grinding, salivating, bleating, trying to bite, and head butting. Rabies is a fatal disease that usually results in death within 10 days of the first clinical signs of the disease.
There is no treatment for rabies so efforts should be taken to eliminate other possible causes of like clinical signs which could be menginial worms, tick paralysis, and listeriosis. All of which can mimic clinical signs of rabies. There is no surefire way to know if signs are from rabies or other possible infection.
It should be noted that if any animal shows any neurological signs, you should wear gloves and protective clothing during any contact with an animal showing clinical signs. Be certain to keep your hands out of their mouths, use precaution, quarantine the animal and be sure to limit anyones exposure to the goat (sheep, or other animal) until consultation with a veterinarian is possible. You want to ensure your safety as well as others from this awful disease that is painful to treat in humans and if not treated, is deadly.
Whilst there are a couple of approved rabies vaccines for sheep in the United States, no vaccines are approved for goats. In New York, an infected, unvaccinated goat with rabies was exhibited at the New York State Fair in 1996. 438 people were potentially exposed to the animal and prophylaxis was administered to those exposed. As a result of that event, many fairs in New York now require goats be separated from the public by a plexiglass screen because animals cannot be officially vaccinated with a labeled rabies vaccine.
A trial vaccine was studied at Cornell University from 1999 through 2000 and a rabies test vaccine was formulated for goats. After a 14 month trial, a single dose of a minimally potent vaccine provided significant protection more than a year later but the test did not meet minimum requirements established by the USDA to claim protection.
It is recommended by Mary C. Smith DVM, DACT at Cornell University with the Ambulatory and Production Medicine Clinic, that goats and other camelids be given Imrab 2 ml subcutaneously with an annual booster. If the goat or camelid is in contact with the public, at a petting zoo or fair, it is recommended 2 initial doses be given a month apart followed by an annual booster.
A booster should be given if an animal is exposed to a suspected rabid or known rabid animal. A sheep may be quarantined and observed for 45 days but a goat or camelid may not be recognized as being vaccinated and would be euthanized or be required a full 6 months of quarantine. Official guidelines cite that exposed, unvaccinated livestock be euthanized or slaughtered immediately.
With so little research and vaccines approved for use in goats, many must be used "off label" under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.
It is our hope that as goats become increasingly popular in the United States, more research for vaccines and studies will be given to goats. Our entire herd was vaccinated for rabies after we discussed the issue with our veterinarian. None of our goats had any ill effects from the vaccine.
Below find some more information from sites we gleaned our information and research in writing this post.