*Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with more specific location information.
FORT SUMNER, N.M. (KRQE) – For the first time on record, a cat has tested positive for rabies in De Baca County. New Mexico Department of Health officials say the case means there may be more wildlife with rabies in the area.
“A cat that tests positive for rabies is an indication that there may be other wildlife in the area with the disease,” Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Chad Smelser said in a press release. “People need to avoid contact with all wild animals as several species are known to carry rabies. If you are bitten by a wild mammal, seek medical attention immediately.”
The cat was found in the Fort Sumner area, according to the Department of Health. This is the first time a cat has tested positive in De Baca County since recordkeeping began in 1966. Usually, the deadly disease is found in wild animals such as skunks, bats, raccoons, and foxes.
This year, there have been more than 10 cases of rabies found in animals around New Mexico. Most of those have been in western and southwestern New Mexico.
While this is the first time a cat has been found in De Baca County with rabies, it’s not the first time there have been rabid cats in New Mexico. From 2000 to 2021, there have been four other cats that have tested positive, according to the Department of Health.
“This positive rabies test in a cat shows the importance of keeping pets, horses and valuable livestock up-to-date on rabies vaccinations,” Smelser said. “Domestic animals can come into contact with rabid wild animals and then transmit the disease to humans.”
The Department of Health recommends barn cats and feral cat colonies be vaccinated against rabies, which can infect humans. State law requires dogs and cats be vaccinated. If an unvaccinated animal is exposed to rabies, it may have to be put down.
If you come across an animal acting abnormally, it might be a sign of rabies. The Department of Health says you should call animal control or the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (505)-827-9376. Dead and sick animals can also transmit rabies.