You most likely have heard of rabies, but do you know the specifics of this disease? Do you know why in most states dogs and cats are legally required to have the rabies vaccine? As a pet owner is it important to understand why this vaccine is so important and why it’s required. Here are ten facts about rabies that you may not have known.
- As much as we would like to believe this deadly disease is one of the past, rabies is still very present in the US and worldwide. Every nine minutes a human dies from rabies. This is a very sad, but true fact.
- The rabies virus is a bullet-shaped virus that travels from the bite wound through peripheral nerves to the brain. This time is considered the incubation period. Once the virus reaches the brain, the animal becomes symptomatic within a week. Rabies can be transmitted through saliva or brain tissue. Mammals can contract this disease through contact with these bodily secretions/tissues. Most mammals are susceptible to this disease and it is fatal once symptoms are present.
- Bats are critical carriers of rabies and you may not even realize that you have been bitten by one. Bats can come into homes during the night and bite while people are sleeping. People also may try to remove bats if they are seen in the home and be bitten during this process. According to the CDC, about 6% of bats are rabid. Further, “there are usually only one or two human cases per year. But the most common source of human rabies in the United States is from bats.” This is important to realize when dealing with bats in your own household for your family and pets.
- Most people think that animals have to be acting “off” or have abnormal behavior to be infected with rabies. This is untrue. Most rabid animals will appear abnormal, but some can present in the paralytic or dumb form of rabies. In this state animals can appear sick or “tame” even. This can be dangerous because people may want to “care” for these animals during this time and exposure is much more likely.
- Dogs in developing countries, ones that are wild or kept as pets, are the number one cause of the transmission of rabies in developing countries. According to the CDC, 90% of rabies is transmitted via dog bites. Vaccinating 70% of dogs in a population at risk for rabies can break the rabies cycle within that area. Vaccinating dogs can save human lives!!
- In the US, rabies is mostly spread through wildlife. Most domesticated animals are vaccinated for rabies. The CDC reports, “More than 90% of all animal rabies cases reported to CDC each year occur in wild animals. The main animals that get rabies include raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes.” This is important to understand. Worldwide most cases of rabies are due to rabid dogs. We do not this issue in the US because we vaccinate; this should be an example of why we should CONTINUE to vaccinate our pets.
- In the US, any animal bitten or scratched by either a wild, carnivorous mammal or a bat that is not available for testing should be regarded as having been exposed to rabies. If your pet is NOT vaccinated for rabies, they may have to be euthanized or placed in strict quarantine for 4 months. It is up to the animal control officer to decide how to proceed on based on the risk of exposure, etc. Animals with expired vaccinations need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Dogs and cats that are currently vaccinated are kept under observation for 45 days. Again, another important reason to vaccinate our pet for rabies.
- “The number of rabies-related human deaths in the United States has declined from more than 100 annually at the turn of the century to one or two per year in the 1990s. Modern day prophylaxis has proven nearly 100% successful,” according to the CDC. This shows the importance of a strict vaccine protocol.
- There are actually 3 phases of clinical rabies. Prodromal, excitative and paralytic. The first stage (prodromal): occurs within the first 1-3 days. The virus first reaches the brain, mild neurologic signs may occur and this is when the animals may appear “tame”. The second stage (excitative): is the following 2-3 days. This is the ferocious stage, the one that most people think of when they think of rabies. Aggressive, drooling, attacking humans and other animals can be symptoms in this stage. The third stage (paralytic): is when animals begin to not have control over their swallowing and we see the main presentation of excessive drooling and foaming at the mouth.
- Rabies is fatal. Rabies is diagnosed via submission of brain tissue from the deceased patient. There is no test available to diagnose rabies in an alive animal. There is no cure for rabies, which is why it is so important to keep your pet updated with the vaccine. It is also important to have your pet evaluated right away if potential exposure to a rabid animal has occurred. VACCINATING FOR RABIES is the only way to prevent this fatal disease. Domesticated animals (dogs, cats, livestock) and humans who work in high-risk jobs for rabies exposure should be vaccinated for rabies. In the US rabies vaccination is required by law for dogs and cats and should not be declined by pet owners lightly. Understand that the risk of saying “NO” to a rabies vaccine for your pet doesn’t only affect them but could potentially affect you and your family if they are exposed.