Can Cows Get Rabies? Prevention Guide

Most people imagine a snarling mad dog, foaming at the mouth when the term “rabies” is mentioned. Whatever movies have taught us about rabies, we believe it to be true, so, we always imagine the infected animal running rabid.

Rabies is commonly associated with dogs and bats, however, a variety of animals can get infected with this viral disease as well.

It poses a serious risk for herds, so, many farmers are seen asking about rabies in livestock, especially cattle.

Can cows get rabies? Due to many animals testing positive for rabies, it is a growing concern for many cattle farmers that they can suffer losses due to this viral disease.

A number of animals can be the carriers of this fatal disease. The infected species show clinical signs of the disease.

Whenever the cases in the wild begin to increase, we may see many domesticated animals getting infected as the exposure opportunities rise.

So, a farmer should prepare himself for this infection and should know everything about it from clinical signs to prevention measures.

Here’s what you need to know about cattle getting rabies.

Can Cows Get Rabies?

Though it is rare, Yes cows can get rabies. It can spread through the herd and is mostly fatal. All warm-blooded animals are susceptible to getting rabies.

This viral disease first attacks the nervous system, brain, and spinal cord leading to brain deterioration and death.

Rabies virus occurs in most mammals, this fatal virus is caused by the Lyssavirus resulting in acute inflammation of the brain. 

It is a ‘high risk’ problem in South America, Africa, Russia, and much of Asia. The concern intensifies when the fox, raccoon, and skunk population gets infected.

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It is uncommon in cattle, still, a few livestock cases get reported each year. Rabid animal cases rise dramatically when wildlife cases increase. 


The bite of a positive animal causes the rabies virus. Through fox or raccoon, the virus is transmitted and responsible for infection in cattle.

The primary way of transmission is being bitten by the positive animal. It is spread through the saliva of an infected animal.

Saliva is the main method of transmission shed through the infected animal and spreads through the body via the bloodstream.

The virus transmits through the nerves from the point of infection. 

It travels to the spinal cords where it can incubate for months, commonly 3-12 weeks. From the spine it makes its way to the brain, that’s when clinical symptoms begin to appear in cows.

The virus enters the orifices and lacerations to the skin, though it is uncommon.

The virus can also enter through open wounds, mucous membranes, eyes, and the mouth.

Usually, the virus is not spread through the air under normal conditions. This transmission method is also possible.

Rabies spread through single animals and infect different members of the herds.

Rabies is transmitted due to the curious nature of the cows who like to inspect raccoons, dogs, foxes, etc exhibiting strange behavior. 

Rabies transmission from the unpasteurized cow’s milk to human beings is being researched, however, properly cooked meat and pasteurized milk pose no threat to humans.

Clinical Signs of Rabies Infection

The time between the infection and the onset of clinical symptoms varies. Clinical signs can appear as early as a few weeks to as late as a few months.

If not treated with an anti-viral rabies drug, progress to death happens in a short time once the symptoms appear.

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Milk production and feed intake drop significantly. Cows look very alert and are always busy staring at objects. 

One of the early signs includes aggressive, excitable, or exaggerated movements. Sexual activity is increased gradually including mouthing behavior and bulls have persistent erections or a prolapsed penis.

Other signs include lack of appetite and Dysphagia when the animal has difficulty swallowing.

Altered vocalization, seizures, and incoordination of the hindquarters are some of the symptoms shown by the positive animal.

cow rabies

Prevention of Virus

Awareness of this deadly virus is the first step to prevention.

Vaccination of wild animals can control rabies infection though it is difficult, therefore, limiting the contact of those animals with pasture and farmland reduces the likelihood of rabies transmission.

Cows should be handled cautiously when infected with an undetermined disease.

You should not take the situation lightly when neurological signs begin to appear.

The examination should be done with gloves to avoid exposure of saliva to the hands.

Tests, Treatments, and Vaccination

A post-mortem inspection of the brain can only determine the rabies infection, so, there are no tests available for this virus.

According to the Journal of Public Health, Cattle owners should seek consultation right after the bite or contact with an infected animal.

Once the clinical signs appear, the rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin would not be as effective. 

The first step includes postexposure prophylaxis then a dose of immunoglobulin followed by a strict schedule of injections of the rabies vaccine.

Prevention Tips For Infected Cattle Owner

Considering how threatening the disease can be and how difficult it is to treat them, only prevention can save cows and their owners.

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People at risk of contracting diseases should be vaccinated as this deadly disease transgresses to humans as well.

Once the people begin showing symptoms, it is already too late and the death is almost certain. 

  • Keep a safe distance from the wild animals and supervise children to do so. 
  • When the animal is rabid, keep it separate, and contact local authorities. 
  • Vaccinate your pets and livestock against the rabies.
  • If the owner has been exposed to the saliva, wash the contaminated area with soap and water as soon as possible.
  • Consult healthcare providers about other preventive measures.
  • Limit the outbreak by contacting local authorities 

In Summary

Though it is rare for cattle, still, there is a possibility of cows testing positive for this infection.

Pets and livestock should be vaccinated yearly. With the right precautions, you can save the animals and yourself from getting the viral disease in the first place.

There are many effective vaccines available to prevent the spread of this virus.

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