As more and more people question the need to vaccinate their pets against infectious diseases, veterinarians are increasingly concerned about the resurgence of a killer. In Georgia, a reservoir of the disease is present in our wildlife. What’s the chance of your pet encountering a rabid animal?
It’s a scenario that happens all too often as urban sprawl encounters rural farmland and wooded areas. You hear aggressive barking and maybe a high-pitched “yip” or two. Looking out your window, you see your beloved dog in an all out battle with a raccoon! After breaking up the fight, your mind races as you check your dog for wounds and wonder about the chance of rabies.
Every year in North America, the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) monitor the prevalence of rabies. Thousands of wild animals test positive every year and, despite mandatory vaccines for pets, hundreds of cats, dogs, horses and other domestic animals contract this killer as well. The good news is that rabies cases in people and domestic animals have decreased throughout the 20th century, but only continued vigilance will insure our on-going safety.
Several variant strains of rabies exist in North America, including strains found in skunks, raccoons, foxes and bats. Although these different rabies variants prefer certain hosts, they are capable of infecting almost any mammal, including people! And, despite reports of the canine strain of rabies being extinct in the United States, vaccines are still needed to protect our pets and ourselves.
Laws require dogs and cats to be vaccinated against rabies. For most pets, the initial vaccine is given at about 16 weeks of age. We recommend a booster rabies vaccine every year for most pet. To safely protect our cats, we use a non-adjuvanted rabies vaccine called Purevax®, which helps to minimize adverse vaccine reactions.
These vaccinations can also be a life-saver if your pet does come into contact with a wild animal. If your pet is not vaccinated and fights with an unknown wild animal or even a confirmed rabid one, you will need to quarantine your pet for six months (although this can vary by region). This extended observation period is meant to keep the animal under control in the event it does develop rabies. It is also a costly endeavor. A six month stay at an approved quarantine facility might cost more than $1500. Compare that expense to the cost of a rabies vaccine.
Never assume that your “indoor only” pet is safe from rabies either. Bats, the largest reservoir of rabies in North America, can find their way into homes very easily. Attracted to their fluttering flight or a dying bat on the floor, our pets, especially cats, risk exposure. And, since bat bites are almost undetectable because of their size, you might miss the fact that your pet has been bitten.
Finally, always contact an animal control officer or wildlife expert if you see a wild animal acting strangely. Because of the deadly nature of this disease, you should never attempt to capture a wild animal on your own.
Although we rarely see human rabies deaths in our country, more than 55,000 people die from rabies annually in Asia and Africa. That’s one person every 10 minutes! What’s even sadder is that many of these deaths are children. For those of us in North America, these deaths may seem remote, but we should never lose sight that this killer still lurks in our own backyard!
Need more information about Rabies vaccines? Please call one of our locations:
Peachtree City – 770-487-1338
Fairburn – 770-692-6034