RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The state veterinarian recommended Tuesday that livestock owners in southwest Virginia consider vaccinating their animals, with one Botetourt County dairy already placing its milkers under observation because of exposure to rabid cats.

Dr. Richard Wilkes, state veterinarian with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said state public health officials report an increased incidence of rabies in livestock in the western part of the state.

Dr. Julia Murphy, the state public health veterinarian with the Department of Health, said each year in Virginia eight to 10 cows and one or two horses are confirmed with rabies. Sheep also occasionally are infected, she said.

Besides vaccinating their livestock, officials recommended that companion animals such as cats and dogs be vaccinated.

Unvaccinated livestock exposed to rabies, such as the milk cows in Botetourt County, are observed for six months; exposed vaccinated livestock are observed for 45 days.

During observation, animal movement on and off the farm is restricted.

"The reduced time for observation for vaccinated livestock may be a prime motivator for many farmers to vaccinate their animals," Wilkes said in a news release.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.