Animals on a farm in Perth County are under confinement after a calf on that farm tested positive for rabies according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. 

The ministry is not naming the farm or releasing its address for reasons of confidentiality, but assures residents of southern Ontario that there is no risk to food safety. 

"There are no milking animals on the farm," said Dr. Maureen Anderson, lead veterinarian of animal health and welfare with the ministry. "It's not a beef operation, where they're being readied to be shipped for meat. So there's no risk to the food chain."

Animals being closely monitored

Earlier this week, the farmer noticed that the calf was acting strangely and called in a veterinarian, who tested the animal for rabies. When the test came back positive, the other animals on the farm were put under confinement.

"They're not allowed to go anywhere," Anderson said. "They're being very closely monitored. They're being kept separate from any other animals so that we reduce the risk ... that there's any further transmission of the virus."

Anderson said that if any other animal on the farm exhibits the symptoms of rabies and either dies or is euthanized, it will be tested. A positive test will result in a lengthened period of confinement.

Rabies strain last seen in 2012

The Arctic fox strain of rabies that was found in the calf was last seen in Ontario in 2012, and is different from the strain of rabies that has been identified in raccoons in Hamilton. 

"Between 1958 and 1990, we had 22,000 rabid red foxes in Ontario," Anderson said. "We beat it back, and the last known pocket of Arctic fox variant rabies was actually in that Perth district." 

"What likely happened is we pushed it down below the level of detection, but there may have still been a couple of pockets where the virus was still circulating in the wildlife population and only now has spilled back over into the domestic animal population."

She said that the Ministry of Natural Resources will begin dropping vaccinated bait in the Perth area in the spring, in order to reduce the number of undetected cases of rabies among wild fox and skunk populations. 

In the meantime, she encouraged farmers to be on the lookout for wildlife in their barns or in contact with their animals. 

The symptoms of rabies include: 

  • Change in animal behaviour.
  • Difficulty swallowing food or water.
  • Stiff, uncoordinated movements.
  • A "drunken" gait.
  • Inability to rise from lying flat on the ground.