What you need to know about rabies
With the approach of World Rabies day on Monday, September 28, this is an excellent time for animal guardians to become more aware about rabies, and to take steps to enhance control and prevention of this potentially deadly disease to both humans and companion animals. There are almost 60,000 human deaths worldwide each year, mostly in Africa and Asia; however, each year 40,000 people in the United States receive post exposure inoculations against rabies.
While canine rabies has been eliminated in the United States, many cases of rabies in domestic cats are reported each year. In other areas of the world, large numbers of stray dogs are present, which can often come into contact with infected wild animals. Rabies is a virus that can occur in most mammals, and which is transmitted by the bite of infected animals. As there are high numbers of rabies virus in the saliva of infected animals, this virus attacks the nervous system of affected animals, and can cause a variety of neurological symptoms and/or behavioral changes. The time from exposure until the onset of clinical signs can take from a few weeks to months; however once in the nervous system, there is little effective treatment.
There are many steps that animal guardians can take to control and prevent rabies in their pets. Probably the most important step is in making sure that pets are current on their rabies vaccinations. In most states, puppies and kittens are vaccinated at ages 4 to 6 months, which is then boostered at one year of age. After that, most states require rabies vaccinations every 3 years.
There are new studies being undertaken to document that immunity to rabies vaccination lasts much longer than 3 years (www.rabieschallengefund.org) which are important studies, as we certainly do not want to over-vaccinate our pets. It is important to understand the laws in your state on rabies vaccination, because if a pet is unvaccinated and potentially exposed to rabies, they must be either quarantined for 6 months or put down. It is also important to keep pets away from wildlife, especially those that are at higher risk of carrying rabies, such as raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. It is also important not to feed or handle wildlife, including dead animals, as the rabies virus can survive in saliva and nervous tissue for a period of time
Be aware of some of the signs of rabies in wildlife, such as swallowing issues, excessive drooling, being more tame than expected, having increased aggression, as well as trouble moving or paralysis. Pets should be kept indoors or under supervision if they are allowed outside. Do not feed or put water for pets outside, and garbage should be securely covered to detract from wild life visitors, including raccoons and opossums. Teach children to never handle wild animals or unfamiliar domestic animals.