Rabies: Educate. Vaccinate. Eliminate.
In recognition of World Rabies Day, I thought I might remind all of us about the importance of vaccinating our pets to protect them from this always fatal disease.
Rabies is a viral infection that has an affinity for neurological tissue, especially the brain. It is found to infect mammals in the wild and can be transmitted to humans as well. It causes anxiety, convulsions, fear of light and water (hydrophobia) and other abnormal behaviors. The virus will make its way to the salivary glands quickly after infection. This is why the normal way that rabies is contracted is through an animal bite and exposure to infected saliva. The virus can be transmitted through any break in the skin by contact with infected tissue. This could include scratches or other wounds contacting saliva or infected tissue.
The virus is very fragile outside its host which we will discuss later. We should remember that the most common carriers of rabies in the U.S. are raccoons, skunks, bats, coyotes, and foxes. Small rodents like rats, mice, and squirrels rarely transmit rabies and rabbits are not hosts for this disease. Our non-vaccinated pets are obviously at risk.
Most exposures to rabies occur due to animal bites or contact with dead animals (especially bats). Prevention of rabies involves vaccination, keeping pets confined, and educating children to avoid strange animals, including pets. Avoiding wildlife, especially if acting strangely or appearing to be ill, would prevent most bite and accidental exposures. NEVER approach an animal that seems to be unafraid or bold. NEVER handle a dead animal. Always contact authorities if you find an animal or have been bitten.
If exposure has occurred, wash the area with soap and water. Again, the virus is fragile outside the body. Seek medical attention quickly. Treatment, such as it is, should be started before any symptoms. Rabies is virtually 100% fatal if treatment is not started. I think it is important to realize that the old “shots in the stomach for 2 weeks” like your grandma told you is no longer required. Generally there will be a couple of injections on the first day and then a couple more, in the arm, at weekly intervals.
The best way to protect our pets is with vaccination. We normally will begin vaccination for rabies at about 3-4 months. Once your pet has received two vaccinations a year apart, they will begin an every 3 year booster schedule. This includes cats and indoor dogs. Remember that vaccination is the only sure prevention. Vaccination also protects your pet should there be an accidental bite. If not current on vaccination, your pet could be required to enter a quarantine period or be euthanized for testing.
Rabies vaccination is critical to control the spread of rabies and it is the law. All pets must be current on rabies vaccination. If we can answer any questions about vaccinating your pets or if you have questions about a possible exposure situation, don’t hesitate to call. Your families, including pets, health is our primary concern.
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