Residents of Labrador should be prepared for outbreaks of the rabies virus by keeping pets vaccinated and being aware of wild animals carrying the virus, an official says

Between late January and early February, Newfoundland and Labrador's Department of Natural Resources confirmed three wild animals — including two red foxes and a wolf — and a dog had contracted the rabies virus.

Three of the cases occurred in Labrador City, while the fourth was in Voisey's Bay. 

Another red fox that was spotted near Schefferville is being tested for the virus — that is contracted through saliva from a rabid animal.

"We expect rabies to occur in Labrador, but we're not able to predict accurately when it will arrive. We know there are cycles within the wild animal populations," Dr. Hugh Whitney, chief veterinary officer, told CBC Radio's CrossTalk Tuesday.

'As we often say, a fed animal is a dead animal.' - Dr. Hugh Whitney

While these most recent cases don't measure up to the large outbreak of rabies in 2012, when 16 cases were identified, Whitney suggests that people in Labrador always be prepared for the risk of encountering an animal with the virus. 

"Don't feed them because that encourages them to come close to us and then, during times like now when we're dealing with rabies, we may misinterpret the behaviour of an animal that has been fed and think that it's rabid and we end up shooting it," said Whitney.

"So, as we often say, a fed animal is a dead animal."

BC Wolf Plan

A wolf, two foxes and a dog in Labrador have been identified as having the rabies virus. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Whitney said residents should report any strange-acting wild animals to wildlife officials, and domestics animals like dogs and cats should be vaccinated against rabies.

"If you have an unvaccinated animal that encounters at night — or anytime — a fox or wolf and we don't know about it then we are at much higher risk. Our chances of getting rabies are often higher from our domestic animals because they are closer to us."

Thirty rabies cases were confirmed in Labrador in 1996.