Rabies is a deadly disease that attacks the central nervous system. It can affect all mammals, including wildlife, household pets, livestock, and humans. There is no treatment available for rabies and once symptoms appear, rabies is fatal.
Luckily, since the turn of the century in the United States, rabies cases in humans has become extremely rare. Where previously there were hundreds of rabies related deaths per year, nowadays there are only one or two human fatalities annually.
This is largely due to the success of rabies prevention, and rabies prevention in pets continues to be an important focus in veterinary medicine. Here, Carriage Hills Animal Hospital explores the disease and how you can help with rabies prevention in pets.
Symptoms and Identification of Rabies
Rabies is generally spread through wildlife contact with domestic animals and people. Rabies is still common in skunks, raccoons, and bats – animals that frequently come into contact with pets and livestock.
The rabies virus can have an incubation period of days to months, and is spread through contact with saliva of an infected animal. Once the virus has affected the brain and salivary glands, pets and people can become infected from a bite wound.
Signs of infection with rabies can be hard to detect. In general, signs include the following stages, although not all animals will exhibit all signs of each stage.
- Early signs: fever, acting nervous, agitation, hiding, ataxia (unable to walk)
- Later signs: aggression, increased agitation, erratic behavior
- End stage: muscle weakness and tremors, seizures, coma, death
Animals with rabies are diagnosed during a post mortem examination. Because of the public health risk, veterinarians are often assisted by public health officials when there is an outbreak.
Rabies Prevention in Pets
Prevention of rabies by vaccination has proven nearly 100% effective. Since there are significant and serious human health implications, rabies vaccination is required by law in every state for dogs. In Alabama, cats and ferrets are also required by law to be vaccinated by 3 months of age.
The rabies vaccine is safe and effective and can be given at your pet’s wellness exam. We generally vaccinate dogs and cats for rabies at 12 weeks of age, with a booster given at 1 year of age. We then revaccinate every 3 years. Ferrets must be vaccinated each year as there is no 3 year vaccine available for them.
You can help prevent rabies in pets with the following:
- Keep pets away from wildlife
- Ensure all your pets are properly vaccinated
- Minimize contact with stray animals and those with unknown vaccine history
If you have questions about rabies prevention in pets or specific questions about your pets and vaccination, please call us anytime. We’re here to help!