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If you're a pet owner, you are likely familiar with the term rabies. You hear it every time you bring your beloved pet(s) to the veterinarian. You hear it every time you bring them to get groomed. You're asked to provide proof that they are protected against this horrific disease when you license them, bring a new pet into your home, and when (or if) you bring them to a dog sitter, or boarding facility. Everyone asks if they are rabies vaccinated, and they have good reason.
When most people think of rabies, they picture a wild, crazy-eyed animal foaming at the mouth, ready to attack. They think "this will never happen to my pet. I live in a pretty safe area where wildlife are far enough away not to bother us. Bats are nowhere near us. Besides, this can only happen to wild animals." Wrong.
A responsible pet parent is an informed pet parent who knows that rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system, and can be spread to both animals and humans.
The rabies virus is secreted in saliva and is transmitted to people and/or animals through a bite by an infected animal. Less common, rabies can also be transmitted when saliva from a rabid animal comes in contact with an open wound on a person or animal.
While most commonly found in wild animals such as: raccoons, skunks, bats, coyotes and foxes, no mammal is completely exempt from the danger of contracting rabies. In fact, recent studies by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) show that cats have become the most common domesticated animal infected with rabies in the last few years.
Why? What causes cats to have more exposure than dogs, horses, or cattle?
Unfortunately, many cat owners don't vaccinate their cats against rabies due to their cat being strictly indoors, or due to the fact that they rarely ever see their cat because it is always outdoors. It's important to know that regardless if your pet is an indoor or outdoor pet, you must get them the rabies vaccination. In fact, the rabies vaccination has become a mandatory law for pet owners.
Cats are not the only ones at risk to the disease, however. Rabies can also infect dogs, cattle, horses, and sheep. The numbers are significantly high in dogs and cattle, as well. Sadly, once the clinical signs of rabies appear, there is no treatment, and rabies is nearly always fatal. The good news is that rabies disease is fully preventable. But, before we begin to talk about prevention, what are the symptoms that you should look out for in case you or your pet has been exposed to a rabid animal?
Horses and livestock with rabies may also exhibit depression, self-mutilation, or increased sensitivity to light. A less common, but equally important symptom to notice is that some rabid animals my not show signs of aggression, but rather become uncharacteristically affectionate. Never approach a wildlife animal freely, no matter how friendly it may seem.
Although Animal Control programs and the rabies vaccination have tremendously reduced the number of human cases within the United States, rabies still remains a major concern world wide. In countries where there are less animal control programs, and where the rabies vaccination is still under development, this disease kills approximately 60,000 people every year, all due to non-vaccinated animals.
Here in the United States, most of the relatively few human cases have resulted simply from exposure to bats. Whether you have a bat in your home, or have been bitten by a bat, it is extremely important to avoid any contact or exposure with them, as majority of bats are rabid. Any exposure to a bat should be immediately reported to your doctor.
If your pet has been bitten by a rabid animal, it is crucial to follow these steps and be aware of this information:
Remember, rabies is a fully preventable disease, and it all starts with the rabies vaccination.
There are many vaccination programs and clinics that offer the vaccine without having to pay an office visit to a veterinarian. Seek them out! Though, I always suggest having your veterinarian vaccinate your animals. They, like human physicians, will answer any questions you may have, and advise you on the recommended or required frequency of vaccinations in your area.
Note: Approved rabies vaccinations are available for cats, dogs, ferrets, horses, cattle, and sheep. Licensed oral vaccinations are also being used for mass immunization of wildlife - especially raccoons!
Lastly, remembering these little tips could help save you and your pet's lives!
Finally, if you see a wild animal, or even a domesticated animal that is outside and acting strange, report it to your city or county Animal Control.