By Arlo the Hound with Help from Honor Tarpenning
Rabies is a viral disease of the nervous system. All mammals are susceptible to rabies, but in the United States, those affected are most often raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats. Cases of rabies have been reported in every state except for Hawaii. This virus is passed through the saliva of affected animals, most often through bites. Before 1960 most cases occurred in domestic animals, but now we can vaccinate our pets against rabies. Today, 90% of animals which contract rabies are wild; the other ten percent is comprised of mostly cats, cattle and dogs.
Rabies is dangerous and usually deadly. Once exhibiting symptoms, most animals die of this virus. After a bite or contact with the saliva of a rabid animal, it is important that one receive vaccinations immediately. A quick response to exposure is the only way to save a person or animal from the debilitating effects of this virus.
The only way to know for sure if an animal is rabid is through laboratory tests. However, one should be wary of wild animals which act tame or move slowly, or domestic animals which behave aggressively. Rabid animals might also have problems swallowing, drool excessively, bite at everything, and have trouble moving. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms of rabies in humans are “nonspecific, consisting of fever, headache, and general malaise. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.” One should NEVER wait for symptoms to seek treatment after contact with a possibly rabid animal. It can take up to three months for rabies symptoms to manifest, and at that point it is too late.
The most important step everyone must take to protect pets, families, and communities, is to have pets (dogs, cats, and ferrets) vaccinated. Different rabies vaccines expire after different periods of time, so you should talk to your vet about how often you should have your pet vaccinated. According to the CDC, “This year, over 55,000 people around the world will die from rabies. That’s one person every 10 minutes. Half of the people who die from rabies are under the age of 15.” Keeping companion animals vaccinated is the most effective way to prevent the spread of rabies.
Another way to guard against rabies is to keep companion animals under supervision at all times. Cats should remain indoors, and dogs should always be supervised in a fenced-in area or on a leash. Even when your dog is in your yard, he is susceptible to contact with a rabid animal. Bats, cats, raccoons and even persistent foxes and skunks can find their way into fenced-in yards. Raccoons make up nearly half of wild animal rabies cases in the United States, and should thus be avoided at all times. It is never completely safe to handle wild animals.
Make your property less attractive to wild animals by waiting to put trash out until pick-up morning, and make sure the lid is on tight. Do not feed wild animals in your yard, and do not leave pet food outside.
Many dogs are bitten by rabid animals when they roam into the animal’s habitat. Spay or neuter your dogs to prevent roaming.
If you witness an animal acting strangely, or exhibiting any of these afore-mentioned symptoms, contact your local Animal Control office immediately. If you or your pet come in contact with a rabid animal, seek medical attention right away. If the animal can be safely caught, bring it to the doctor so that rabies tests can be performed.