World Rabies Day is September 28
Rabies remains a major concern worldwide, killing tens of thousands of people every year. While it is a deadly disease, it is 100% preventable.
What is rabies?
Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. It is secreted in saliva, thus transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Once the physical signs of the disease are apparent, rabies is nearly always fatal.
What animals can get rabies?
Only mammals can get rabies; birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians do not. In the United States, most cases occur in wild animals- mainly skunks, raccoons, bats, coyotes, and foxes. Cats are the most common domestic animal infected with rabies- mainly because many cat owners do not vaccinate their cats.
What are the signs of rabies in animals?
Rabies affects the nervous system. Animal with rabies may show a variety of signs including fearfulness, aggression, excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing, staggering, paralysis and seizures. Most rabid animals display abnormal behavior, such as a wild animal losing its fear of humans or nocturnal animals wandering in the daytime. Rabies infection can only be confirmed after death, through microscopic examination of the animal’s brain.
What can I do to help control rabies?
Remember that rabies is entirely preventable through vaccination.
- Have your veterinarian vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and select horses and livestock. Your veterinarian will advise you on the recommended or required frequency of vaccination in your area.
- Reduce the possibility of exposure to rabies by not letting your pets roam free. Keep cats and ferrets indoors, and supervise dogs when they are outside. Spaying or neutering your pet may decrease roaming tendencies and will prevent them from contributing to the birth of unwanted animals.
- Don’t leave exposed garbage or pet food outside, as it may attract wild or stray animals.
- Wild animals should never be kept as pets. Not only may this be illegal, but wild animals pose a potential rabies threat to caretakers and to others.
- Observe all wild animals from a distance. A rabid wild animal may appear tame but don’t go near it. Teach children NEVER to handle unfamiliar animals—even if they appear friendly.
- If you see a wild animal acting strangely, report it to the city or county animal control department.
- Bat-proof your home and other structures to prevent bats from nesting and having access to people or pets.
What if my pet has bitten someone?
- Urge the victim to see a physician immediately and to follow the physician’s recommendations.
- Check with your veterinarian to determine if your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date.
- Report the bite to the local health department and animal control authorities. Local regulations may require that your pet is confined and isolated for monitoring for signs of rabies.
- Immediately report any illness or unusual behavior by your pet to the local health department and to your veterinarian.
- Don’t let your pet stray and don’t give your pet away. The animal must be available for observation by public health authorities or a veterinarian.
- After the observation period, have your pet vaccinated for rabies if its vaccination is not current.
What if my pet has been bitten?
- Consult your veterinarian immediately and report the bite to local animal control authorities.
- Even if your dog, cat or ferret has a current vaccination, he/she should be revaccinated immediately, kept under the owner’s control, and observed for a period as specified by state law or local ordinance. Animals with expired vaccinations will need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
- Dogs, cats and ferrets that have never been vaccinated and are exposed to a rabid animal may need to be euthanatized in accordance with regulations or placed in strict isolation for six months.
- Animals other than dogs, cats, and ferrets that are bitten by a rabid or potentially rabid animal may need to be euthanatized immediately.
What if I am bitten?
- Don’t panic, but don’t ignore the bite. Wash the wound thoroughly and vigorously with soap and lots of water for 15 minutes, and then treat with a disinfectant such as ethanol or iodine.
- Call your physician immediately and explain how you were bitten. Follow the doctor’s advice. If necessary, your physician will give you the post exposure treatment recommended by the United States Public Health Service and may also treat you for other possible infections that could result from the bite.
- If possible, confine or capture the animal if it can be done safely. Once captured, don’t try to pick up the animal. Call the local animal control authorities to collect it. If the animal cannot be captured, try to memorize its appearance (size, color, etc.) and where it went after biting you.
- If it is a wild animal, only try to capture it if you can do so without getting bitten again. If the animal cannot be contained and must be killed to prevent its escape, do so without damaging the head. The brain will be needed to test for rabies.
- Report the bite to the local health department. Prompt and appropriate treatment after being bitten and before the disease develops can stop the infection and prevent the disease.
American Veterinary Medical Association. (2019). Rabies and Your Pet. Retrieved September 2019, from American Veterinary Medical Association: https://www.avma.org/public/Health/Pages/rabies.aspx