Rabies Vaccination: Healthy Pet/Happy Pet 4
Article Series for Dunes Living Magazine
By: Dr. Amanda Thomas
Everyone has heard of the Rabies virus and most pet owners know and understand the importance of vaccinating their dogs, cats and ferrets with the annual vaccination that protects them from acquiring this deadly disease. But what is Rabies and why is it so important to us?
Rabies is a severe and fatal disease, caused by a virus that infects the central nervous system (brain) of warm blooded animals, and humans. The virus enters the body through a wound – usually via the bite or scratch of an infected animal – then finds the neuromuscular junctions of that host, travels up nerves to find their central nervous system and brain. The virus resides in the brain of infected animals and people, causing horrifying illness and death.
Following exposure (when an animal bites a human or another animal), or possible exposure, there are a number of steps that need to be taken for both animals and humans.
The incidence of Rabies in the United States is relatively low because, since the 1960’s, veterinarians routinely vaccinate pets for this disease.
Prior to the 1960’s, pets were the primary source of Rabies. Currently, wild carnivores like wolves, coyotes and fox, as well as skunks, bats and raccoons, are the primary hosts of this disease.
Rabies is found worldwide, but especially in developing countries where vaccination of dogs and cats is not routine, and inadequate public health resources limit access to preventive treatment.
When a person is bitten by an animal, they should seek medical attention right away. When a pet is bitten by another animal, the pet owner should seek immediate veterinary care.
The symptoms of Rabies in animals is quite variable, although we usually talk about the “Furious” form and the “Paralytic” forms of rabies. The furious form is when an infected animal becomes “rabid”, meaning they are aggressive and want to attack and bite another animal or a person. This is the most common form in the cat.
The paralytic form is seen when an infected animal suffers from jaw paralysis, drools, can’t swallow and looks lethargic. Any unusual mood or behavior change should arouse suspicion of Rabies. Cats that are allowed outdoors and return home with bite wounds, abscesses or scars should be monitored closely for these symptoms, and always vaccinated annually for Rabies.
If your pet has had exposure to wildlife, has run away for a period of time or has what appears to be a bite wound, you should take them to the veterinary hospital immediately.
If a pet has been bitten by another pet and he/she is up to date on their Rabies vaccination, it is likely that the Department of Health will require a period of time that the offending pet must be quarantined and observed for any clinical signs of Rabies. The vaccinated pet will be given a booster rabies vaccination in most cases and treated for their wounds.
If a pet has been bitten by another pet or by a wild animal and he/she is NOT up to date on their Rabies vaccination, they will be euthanized according to most state laws. A sample of their brain tissue must be sent to the state’s pathology lab for rabies testing. This is why it is absolutely imperative that all of your pets are vaccinated for Rabies every year, whether or not they ever leave your home or go outside.
Many scenarios leave your pet open to mandated quarantines or worse, euthanasia, if they are not vaccinated for Rabies.
Check your files or call your veterinarian’s office to make sure that all of your pets are current on their Rabies vaccination.
If not, make an appointment to bring them to your veterinary clinic for vaccinations!
More people, pets and wildlife will be out and about exploring this spring as our weather turns warm and beautiful again in Myrtle Beach!