New Jersey Department of Agriculture – Division of Animal Health MEMO: Rabies Reminder

Due to recent rabies activity and its impacts on livestock in the state, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture Division of Animal Health would like to encourage everyone to speak with clients about the importance of vaccinating their animals against rabies and the risks associated with unvaccinated animals. Vaccination of livestock and other domestic animals is the most effective strategy to protect animals against this disease. If any animals on a premises are suspected of having rabies exposure, other unvaccinated animals on the same premises and/or in the immediate vicinity may be subject to extended confinement/quarantine.

Rabies is endemic in New Jersey and often detected in bats, raccoons, foxes, skunks, cats and, to a lesser extent, domestic livestock.  Rabies is caused by lyssaviruses from the Rhabdovirus family. Lyssaviruses are usually confined to one major reservoir species in a given geographic area, although spillover to other species is common. Transmission is almost always by introduction of virus-laden saliva into the tissues, usually by the bite of a rabid animal. The virus is shed in the saliva several days before the onset of clinical signs. The disease is invariably fatal once clinical signs appear. Suspect cases should be handled with care and isolated from other animals. Rabid animals of all species usually exhibit typical signs of central nervous system disturbance with owners first noticing their animal “doesn’t seem right.”  As the illness progresses, nervous system impairment becomes more obvious.  Affected animals may or may not show signs of aggression.  Livestock often develop the “dumb” form of the disease which consists of a slight depression, walking in circles, eating non-edible items, “star gazing,” or acting abnormally. When death of the affected animal occurs, the brain must be examined in order to confirm rabies infection.

Potential cases of rabies in livestock, like other diseases affecting the neurological system, must be reported to the State Veterinarian at (609) 671-6400 within 48 hours of diagnosis.  A neurologic disease worksheet must be completed for each case reported.  The neurologic worksheet is available via the NJ Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory (AHDL) website:  Once completed, the worksheet must be faxed to the NJDA – Division of Animal Health at (609) 671-6414.  The AHDL is available to assist with all your testing needs including pathology services.  For inquiries, contact the NJ Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory.  Phone: (609) 406-6999; Fax: (609) 671-6414 web:

To report suspicion of rabies in species other than livestock, call your local Health Department or the New Jersey Department of Health at (609)-826-4872.