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Rabies Awareness

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Stephanie Lewis BS,CVT,VTS(SAIM)
Garden State Veterinary Specialists

As the summer hits its peak, we consider our pets and their interactions with wildlife more. Certain species of wildlife have come out of their hibernation and are beginning to interact in our daily lives. This is also the time to be ever-vigilant about rabies, a fatal disease caused by a virus that can be spread to warm-blooded mammals, such as our pets and ourselves. The virus is most commonly spread through a bite from an infected animal. The species most likely to spread rabies to domestic animals and humans in the Northeast are the skunk, bat, raccoon, fox, and coyote. The recent news has showed us, with the all too common sightings of fox and coyote in our suburban neighborhoods, that we are exposed to these species on a daily basis. Cats represent approximately 90% of the rabies cases seen in domestic animals. In the last five years there has been an average of 16 cats infected with rabies annually. This is presumptively due to their free-roaming nature, i.e. indoor/outdoor cats and the multiplying feral populations around the area. The State of New Jersey reported for the beginning half of 2015 the following species positive for rabies along with the numbers affected: raccoon (80); skunk (8); fox (3); cat (3); groundhog (2); dog (0); other wild (which could include otter, opossums, coyote, beavers, and bear) (2); bats (20).

The progression of rabies is extremely quick once symptoms begin to show with death occurring within ten days. However, it can take up to a year from the time of the initial bite before symptoms begin to show. It is at the time that symptoms appear that the disease becomes transmissible. Once symptoms begin to show, treatment is nearly impossible. This is why it is extremely important that you seek veterinary attention, if you think your pet has been bitten by another animal, for wound care and a booster rabies vaccination.

The symptoms of rabies are a three stage process: the prodromal stage (first 1.5 days after symptoms begin) exhibits a change in personality and voice change; the excitative stage (next 2-3 days) in which the animal begins to have hallucinations; and finally the paralytic or dumb phase (next 2 days) resulting in weakness or paralysis, including their larynx, which does not allow them to swallow, resulting in the “foaming at the mouth” most associated with rabies. Keep alert for wildlife that may be exhibiting abnormal behavior. Are primarily nocturnal species out during the day? If you spot any animal acting inappropriately call your local authorities or animal control. Also keep your pets inside until the problem has been resolved.

Luckily, prevention is readily available from your veterinarian. The standard killed-virus vaccines are available for both cats and dogs. The vaccine can be first administered around 16 weeks of age and then again one year later. Subsequent vaccinations are given at three year intervals. Most townships require a rabies vaccination for licensing both dogs and cats.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for the professional advice of your veterinarian.

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