World Rabies Day

September 28, 2015 marks the 8th annual World Rabies Day. With the slogan “End Rabies Together”, the Global Alliance for Rabies Control aims to prevent rabies on a global scale. While rabies in the United States is at an all-time low (there was 1 human case in the US in 2014), globally rabies kills more than 55,000 people every year. The majority of those are infected by dogs.

You might wonder, if rabies is so rare in the US, why should we worry much about it? The answer is simple. Rabies can infect any mammal, from cats and dogs to bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes to humans. The only way to prevent infection is to vaccinate your pets and to avoid contact with wild animals that are acting strangely. Strange behavior includes the well-known “furious” form of rabies in which infected animals are agitated, bite and snap, and drool excessively. There’s another form, though, that’s less well-known. That’s the “dumb” form in which wild animals may appear tame and have no fear of humans (or other animals). In either case, a bite by the infected animal can easily transmit the virus. Without the vaccine, rabies is 100% fatal in pets and nearly so in people.

Rabies infographicThe most common animals (in the US) found to be infected are bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes. Infected wild animals can pass the virus to our pets by biting them. It’s these interactions that are responsible for all known cases of rabies in domestic pets over the last few decades in the U.S. Of course, if our pets have been vaccinated against rabies, they won’t contract the disease, nor will they be able to pass it on to us. While dogs are the ones most often associated with rabies (everyone remembers Old Yeller, right?), cats are actually more often infected in the US. This is largely because more cats are allowed to roam out of sight of their owners (or are strays) than are dogs.

Currently there are programs using oral rabies vaccines (laced in bait) that are working to reduce and control the incidence of rabies in wild animal populations. However, it will take quite some time for those programs to work, so the most efficient way to continue preventing rabies is to vaccinate our pets! Because dogs and cats are the most likely pets to interact with infected wildlife, they should be vaccinated regularly (yearly or every 3 years, depending on your local laws). But they’re not the only pets that need to be vaccinated. Ferrets should be, too!

Here in New Orleans, Louisiana (and many other states), pet owners are legally required to show proof of current rabies vaccinations for all cats, dogs and ferrets. In Orleans and Jefferson Parishes rabies vaccines are given once when the pet is a puppy, kitten or baby ferret, and then they’re given again at a year old. From there, the vaccine is given every three years. Proof of vaccination protects them and you from infection!

If you have questions about rabies, rabies vaccines or need to schedule your pets for their vaccinations, give us a call!