TRAVERSE CITY — Jill Erickson stopped for lunch at her Solon Township home and noticed a little brown bat crawling across the garage floor.
Erickson thought it highly unusual to see a bat in the middle of the day and feared it might have rabies.
So she scooped the limp creature into a shoe box, put it in a specimen bag, and shipped it off to the Michigan Department of Community Health for testing. She learned two days later — on Sept. 12 — that it indeed tested positive for rabies.
“I talk about vaccinations to my pet owners every day,” said Erickson, a veterinarian at VCA Cherry Bend Animal Hospital in Elmwood Township. “This whole incident really brings home to have all cats and dogs protected. It keeps our families protected, as well, since it’s something people can get.”
By law, a dog needs to be vaccinated at age 16 weeks and older. After the initial shot, it has to be vaccinated after one year and every three years thereafter. Any pet at risk of contact with a rabid animal should get a booster shot immediately and be observed for 45 days, she said.
There is no legal requirement to give cats a rabies vaccination, yet they are the most commonly infected domestic animal, Erickson said.
“With bats being the number one carrier, that puts indoor cats at just as high of risk since bats can easily make their way into the home,” she said.
Over a 10-year period, there have been a total of 23 domestic animals that have tested positive for rabies in Michigan, including 11 cats, said Kim Signs, who oversees rabies surveillance for the Michigan Department of Community Health.
“In terms of domestic animals, we very rarely have dogs and cats rabid in the state,” she said.
Rabid bats in northwest Michigan are rare. This is the first infected bat detected in Leelanau County this year. In 2012, Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties reported one bat each, and Benzie County had one rabid bat in 2011, she said.
A total of 32 bats and no domestic animals tested positive this year in Michigan, a lower number than usual. Normally, an average of 50 to 60 animals test positive, with numbers peaking in August, Signs said.
Domestic animals typically are infected by rabid skunks and concentrated in southeast Michigan and the Thumb area, she said.
Signs encouraged folks to safely collect or confine a bat if there’s been risk of a bite while sleeping. The common impulse is to get it out of the house immediately, she said.
“But if you don’t collect it or confine it, there’s no way to test it, and you might have to go through rabies post-exposure treatment,” she said.