I’ve written here about rabies before, but it’s a threat that never goes away, so I thought we might brush up on it. In addition, September 28, which is just around the corner, is World Rabies Day, so it’s seemed timely. But what makes it even more timely is that I recently had a scare when two friends and their dog were attacked in our neighborhood. You tend to think – even me – that you should know the rabies facts but it’s never really going to affect you or anyone you know. I was wrong.
A few weeks ago, my friends were walking their bull terrier (think Spuds Mackenzie) when two dogs brand new to the neighborhood came barrelling down the street and lunged at their dog. Both my friends tried desperately to get the dogs off and were knocked to the ground and viciously bitten in the process. The dog ended up with a gash in his neck which required 50 stitches. One friend ended up in the hospital for three days with a broken hand and infected bite wounds to both hands. The scariest part? The owner of these dogs had just moved and didn’t know where his veterinary records were. Rabies anyone?
What exactly is rabies? It’s a disease caused by the rabies virus that affects the nervous system, and unless you seek treatment immediately after being bitten, it is fatal. The popular image of rabies is foaming at the mouth and aggressive behavior, which can happen but usually doesn’t until the animal is nearly dead. With no effects of the virus showing outwardly until 1-3 months after being bitten, there is plenty of time for a rabid animal to interact with other animals and people before you would think anything might be wrong.
My friends turned out to be fine – the vaccination records were located – but what if they hadn’t been? Many people think only wild animals carry rabies, but that’s not the case. You don’t even need to be in a rural area for the disease to find you. Your dog could be in its own backyard and be bitten by a rabid animal that enters the yard. The bottom line is you just don’t know, so I’m going to include our rabies tips again in this post. Also, If you want a fact sheet you can print and keep on hand, visit PVMA’s website and download our rabies backgrounder. While you’re there, download any other of our fact sheets that you might find helpful. More are coming all the time.
How can I protect myself from getting rabies?
Be a responsible pet owner:
- Keep vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs, cats, and ferrets. Vaccinating once will not protect your pet for life. Regular vaccinations are important not only to keep your pets from getting rabies, but also to provide a barrier of protection for you if your pet is bitten by an infected animal.
- Never feed stray animals, even the neighborhood cats. You don’t know which, if any, have been vaccinated, and most rabies-infected animals will not show the signs of rabies that you expect until their final hours and you run the risk of being scratched or bitten. One scary statistic – in 2010, cats ranked #2 in Pennsylvania for the highest number of confirmed rabies cases!
- Keep your pets under direct supervision so they do not come in contact with wild animals. If your pet is bitten by a wild animal, seek veterinary assistance for the animal immediately.
- Call your local animal control agency to remove any stray animals from your neighborhood. Do not try to nurse sick animals back to health in your home. They may be unvaccinated and could be infected by the disease.
- Enjoy wild animals (raccoons, skunks, foxes, etc.) from afar. Do not handle, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter, and teach children not to handle them, even if they appear friendly.
Where can I get more information about rabies?
Learn more about rabies at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) rabies website at www.cdc.gov/rabies or the CDC rabies kids page at www.cdc.gov/rabiesandkids which includes questions and answers, prevention and control information, and more.