Rabies still a major concern for pets and owners
By Dr. Rebekah Frost – OBSERVER Columnist
Sept. 28 is World Rabies Day. World Rabies Day was established on the anniversary of the death of Luis Pasteur who developed the first effective rabies vaccine. Rabies is carried by wildlife, most commonly raccoons, bats and skunks. Rabies is a virus that is zoonotic, meaning it can be transferred from one species to the next. The rabies virus causes an acute encephalitis, or infection, in the brain of mammals. New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma are the top five states with the most rabies cases. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there have been 37 human cases since 2003, with 34 of 37 of these resulting in death. As you can see, rabies is a huge public health concern!
The majority of confirmed rabies cases in our domestic animals have been cats! It is extremely important to vaccinate our cats as well as our dogs. New York state requires that all domestic cats, dogs, and ferrets receive their rabies vaccine. The first rabies vaccine must be given at three months of age. The vaccine must be boostered in a year, then every three years after this. If you own a pet that is not up to date on their rabies vaccine, and this pet bites a person, then New York state has the right to euthanize that pet to send for rabies testing.
As a veterinarian, I see many clients that do not vaccinate their cats. Their excuse is that they are strictly indoor cats and they have no access to wildlife. It is important to make these owners aware that first of all, the rabies vaccine is required by law. We also tell owners that a bat can very easily get into your home. Without your knowledge, you and your pets may be exposed to a rabid bat very quickly. If you happen to catch a bat in your home, we recommend you call the Health Department and submit the bat for testing. We also recommend you have all pets in your house that may have been exposed be boostered for rabies. Finally, we recommend that you call your own doctor for recommendations if you were possibly exposed.
The Health Department in Chautauqua County puts on many rabies clinics throughout the year. These clinics are free of charge, but please use caution when taking your pets to these clinics. Your pet is not examined prior to the vaccine, and there may be a chance of an allergic reaction to the vaccine that is given. You are also putting your pet at risk for getting in a fight with another pet, or escaping because they are frightened. At our clinic, you receive a full comprehensive physical examination assuring your pet is healthy to receive the vaccine. With a full examination, your vet may also pick up on other health issues that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Your pet is also in a controlled environment, which is much safer and less stressful for them.
As a pet owner, please also take precautions if you live in a rural area and your pet is exposed to wildlife. Raccoons are the number one carrier of rabies in our area. Just a few years back, we had a client’s dog kill a raccoon in the owner’s front yard. I examined and handled the dog, boostering its rabies vaccine. Just days later, the Health Department tested the raccoon and it came back positive for rabies. The owner and I had to go through a series of immune boosting painful injections to protect ourselves after being exposed to the dog that had killed the raccoon.
To help with the costs associated, the Dunkirk Animal Clinic is offering 50 percent off the rabies vaccine (office call price not included in this) for the week of Sept. 26. Don’t forget your cats and ferrets as it is New York state law and highly recommended to vaccinate them as well! Call 366-7440 to set up your appointment today