PETTIBONE, N. D. – After reports of an aggressive skunk who attacked a cat within the city limits of Pettibone, N.D., on Tuesday, June 30, public health officials want people to be on the lookout to keep their pets and families safe.

According to a press release, a sunk was reported to have aggressively acted toward people in Kidder County before attacking a domestic cat. Authorities caught an aggressive skunk and tested it for rabies. After the captured skunk tested positive, it was then exterminated. Pettibone is about 55 miles northwest of Jamestown.

“Although we can’t be sure it was the same skunk (who attacked the cat),” said Laura Cronquist, an epidemiologist with the North Dakota Department of Health. “There is cause for concern anytime a skunk acts aggressively and is within city limits of a community.”

In fact, skunks serve as the primary carrier of rabies in North Dakota.

Although the department of health is not aware of any exposure to people from the skunk or skunks, they are reminding individuals that if they are attacked or bitten by a skunk they need to call their healthcare provider as soon as possible and notify the department of health. If people have pets that have fought or otherwise interacted with a skunk, they should call their veterinarian as soon as possible.

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“Situations like this reinforce the need to vaccinate all dogs and cats against rabies and to double-check your records to make sure the vaccination is current,” said Cronquist.

The virus is most often transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Rabies can also be transmitted if saliva or nervous system tissue from a rabid animal enters open cuts and wounds or the eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus attacks the nervous system and causes swelling of the brain. There is no treatment and rabies is nearly always fatal.

Public health officials and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture (NDDA) recommends taking the following precautions to decrease the risk of rabies:

  • Keep dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses up to date on vaccinations for rabies. Your veterinarian can advise you on current vaccination recommendations.
  • Try to keep stray animals and wildlife, especially skunks, away from pets and livestock.
  • Do not leave exposed garbage or pet food outside, as this may attract wild or stray animals to your home or yard.
  • Do not approach unfamiliar or wild animals.
  • Learn how to prevent animal bites, especially to children. Teach children never to handle or approach unknown animals without permission from a parent or guardian and the animal's owner.
  • Report stray animals or animals acting unusually to local animal control.
  • Bat-proof your home to prevent bats from nesting inside and having access to people or pets.
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets. It is unlawful in North Dakota to keep a raccoon or a skunk as a pet.
  • Avoid contact with animals while traveling, especially internationally.

For more information on rabies or to report a potential rabies exposure, please contact North Dakota's division of disease control at 701-328-2378 or 800-472-2180 or the NDDA Animal Health Division at 701-328-2655.