“Nice, kitty. Good, kitty … . Ouch! Why did you bite me?”

That unvaccinated cat couldn’t help it. It was infected by rabies, and the victim all too easily could have been you.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health alerted the public Nov. 15 that an Otter Tail County kitten tested positive for rabies. The kitten bit three people, including a 4-year-old child and a pregnant woman, was euthanized and on Nov. 12 test results confirmed rabies.

The owner of the farm where the kitten was fed reported told investigators she heard a commotion on her front porch Oct. 16, the Board of Animal Health said in a news release. She saw a skunk on the porch attacking an approximately 6-month-old kitten. After separating the kitten and skunk, she recalled seeing blood and bite marks on the kitten’s rear leg.

The cat became aggressive and bit the farm owner, her 4-year-old son and her pregnant sister in early November. Minnesota Department of Health advised post-exposure prophylaxis for the five people in all who may have been exposed to the rabies virus.

Rabies is a preventable disease. The virus attacks the central nervous system and damages the brain, leading to death. The virus is most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal, which would be carrying one of two types:

  • Dumb rabies, in which an animal acts sick, does not eat and is lethargic.

  • Furious rabies, in which an animal shows aggressive and vicious behavior.

“Minnesota skunks have a very high probability of carrying the rabies virus,” Board of Animal Health Senior Veterinarian Dr. Courtney Wheeler said. “Anyone who observes a pet or livestock interacting with a skunk should contact their veterinarian and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health for recommendations.”

People also should take preventative measures, vaccinating all dogs, cats, ferrets and horses against the rabies virus and keeping the shots up to date.

If an animal is bitten by a bat, skunk or other wild animal, people then should immediately consult a veterinarian. Pets or livestock potentially exposed to the rabies virus should see a veterinarian within 96 hours for a rabies vaccination. Then expect a minimum confinement period of 45 days and as long as 180 days.

The Midwest has seen a substantial decrease in the number of human rabies cases in the past century, primarily due to the availability of the animal vaccine. A vigilant public health system for both people and pets also deserve credit.

We can’t ease back on that vigilance. Skunks -- rabid and otherwise -- are a reality. Feral cats are, too. Simply because one lives in the city doesn’t mean the risk of exposure is any less than in that of someone living on a farm.

Please, get your animals vaccinated and stay alert.