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DHS urges pet vaccinations, precautions as rabies activity in gray foxes increases


Elizabeth Medora

NORTH VALLEY – The Arizona Department of Health Services released a report on Dec. 14 stating that rabies activity in the state’s gray fox population quadrupled in the last year, from six reports of rabid foxes in 2016 to 24 reports in 2017. The infected foxes have been found mainly in southeastern Arizona, but infected animals have been found in multiple counties, including 10 infected animals in Maricopa County and two in Yavapai County.

“So far in 2017, there have been four rabid animals identified in the north valley: three rabid bats and the rabid bobcat, with the bobcat being the most north,” Nicole Capone, M.A., Public Information Officer for the Arizona Department of Health Services, said via email. “We have recommended that people and pets should avoid contact with wild animals, especially those acting strangely.”

In light of the increase in rabies activity, ADHS and other agencies are stressing the importance of taking precautions to avoid exposure to rabies. Animals suffering from rabies usually show behavioral changes, such as acting more aggressive or more tame than usual, showing signs of weakness, or appearing paralyzed and frightened. ADHS and other wildlife agencies emphasize that people should not touch or feed wild or unfamiliar animals, and any wild animal exhibiting erratic or aggressive behavior should be reported to local animal control officials or the Arizona Game and Fish Department at (602) 942-3000. ADHS stresses the importance of immediate medical attention for people or pets bitten by wild animals; bites should also be reported to the county public health department.

According to the Dec. 14 ADHS release, multiple occurrences of rabies in gray foxes have been found in the east-central part of Arizona near recreational hiking trails and camping areas in Maricopa and Pinal Counties, which includes the Superstition Mountains Wilderness Area. Foxes have been seen along trailheads, and ADHS is urging hikers and campers to be aware of wildlife and take necessary precautions.

“It is very important for people to take precautions such as keeping their pets on a leash and vaccinated against rabies, which is a very serious disease that can be fatal,” Dr. Cara Christ, director of ADHS, said in the news release. “People can still walk, hike, or camp in these areas, but should be aware that rabid animals have been identified. It is important to make sure you and your pets are not interacting with wild animals. When at home, pets should be supervised or kept in a fenced yard.”

Vaccinating pets against rabies is a vital part of ensuring their safety – and it’s also the law.

All dogs 3mths and older must be vaccinated for rabies and be licensed within Maricopa County,” Jose Miguel Santiago, Public Information Officer for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, said in an email interview. “If a pet owner cannot prove proper vaccination and the animal comes in contact with a possible rabid animal they are placed under a mandatory 10 day rabies quarantined hold.”

Rabies infections in domestic animals have dropped significantly in the last 60 years, according to reports from the county’s Department of Public Health Office of Epidemiology. However, ensuring that domestic animals don’t become infected relies on getting pets vaccinated. Dogs are required by law to be vaccinated; cats are not required to be, but in certain circumstances, it’s still a good idea, particularly if they’re allowed outdoors.

“Rabies can be fatal to your animal,” Santiago emphasized. “There are sometimes no outward signs that the animal has been exposed to rabies. The only way to tell for sure is through blood/lab work. The only way to guarantee that your animal will not be exposed to rabies is to keep them properly vaccinated. It’s a simple injection that causes little to no pain to the animal and in many cases will be good in their system for up to 3 years.”

Getting dogs licensed helps them make it home if they’re lost, too.

“When licensing your pet you must provide proof of their current rabies vaccination certificate. By having a valid license on your dog, if your dog is lost or picked up by one of our officers it will give us a resource on how to locate you the pet parent,” Santiago explained. “Besides being microchipped licensing is the best way to reunite an animal with its proper pet owner. It is the law to have your dog licensed. That license number is unique to your pet and it will never be given to another animal so it guarantees reuniting pet owners with their lost pet.”

Get information on licensing at Right now, Maricopa County is offering licensing amnesty; pet owners can avoid late/penalty fees for licensing if they license their dogs now through Dec. 31.

For more information on rabies activity in the state, go online to