We’ve all heard of rabies, but thanks to vaccination laws the disease is relatively uncommon in the United States. It’s easy to think that rabies isn’t a problem and won’t affect you or your pets, but the reality is that this deadly disease is closer to us than we realize. Although it’s mostly found in wildlife, rabies still manages to kill hundreds of pets, and a few humans, every year.

Understanding and respecting rabies is the key to protecting your family and pets from this devastating illness.

The Rabies Low-Down

Rabies is a virus that’s transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. Rabies kills as estimated 59,000 people per-year, worldwide. The most common cause of transmission is through the bite of an infected dog. In the United States, most rabies cases are found in wildlife – primarily in bats, raccoons, and skunks.

Rabies initially resides in the muscle tissue before eventually migrating to the nervous system and into the brain. Once an animal is infected, it can take up to a month for symptoms to appear, at which point the disease progresses quickly. The end-stage of rabies is usually characterized by extreme behavior changes including drooling, staggering, and aggression. 

There is no cure for rabies, and the disease is almost always fatal.

Staying Safe 

The law in all 50 states requires that dogs, cats, and ferrets be current on rabies vaccination at all times, and for good reason. Keeping your pets up-to-date on their rabies vaccination is the single most effective way to keep them (and you and your human family members) safe. 

If an unvaccinated pet is exposed to rabies, that pet will have to be quarantined to prevent them from escaping or injuring someone. Additionally, your veterinarian is required by law to report the case to local authorities, who will then determine the ultimate outcome for your pet.

Besides making sure your pets are vaccinated, there are other steps you can take to reduce your two and four-legged family member’s risk of contracting the disease:

  • Avoid contact with wildlife, dead or alive. Contact the authorities if you notice wildlife that is behaving strangely or aggressively, including seeing nocturnal animals out and about during the daytime.
  • Don’t feed your pets outdoors, and keep garbage bins securely covered. Utilize fencing or other means to keep wildlife out of your property.
  • Keep dogs leashed and on the trail, and keep cats indoors.
  • If you, a family member, or pet is bitten or scratched by an animal, get medical attention immediately. Also, if you wake up to find a bat in your home or in the room with a child or a person with a disability, proceed to the nearest medical center.

If you have further questions or concerns regarding rabies, please don’t hesitate to contact The Pet Experts at Wheaton Animal Hospital.