Rabies and Your Pet
What you need to know about the disease and vaccination
What is Rabies? Rabies is a viral disease of the brain and spinal cord. This virus is most commonly transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The disease is usually fatal once signs develop. The good news is that it is very preventable in pets as well as animals.
Who is susceptible? Only warm-blooded animals and people can get rabies. The most frequent outbreaks occur in raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Rabies has also been diagnosed in domestic animals such as cats, dogs, horses, and livestock. Other animal species such as fish, birds, snakes, turtles, lizards, and amphibians do not get rabies.
How is Rabies transmitted? Rabies is present in the saliva of an infected animal. It is usually spread from one animal to another through a bite. In the United States, pets usually become exposed to rabies from a wild animal. Humans can be exposed through subsequent contact with domestic or wild animals. Bats are the most common source of human rabies.
What are the signs of Rabies? Early signs of rabies in animals frequently involve changes in the animal's behavior. A pet that is usually friendly may become aggressive and try to bite. A wild animal may appear tame or unafraid of humans. Animals, such as raccoons, that normally are active at night may be active during daylight hours. As the disease progresses, other signs may include:general sickness
- problems swallowing and increased saliva
- slight or partial paralysis
- increased aggression, and
- eventually, death.
Why should my pet be vaccinated? Although most cases of rabies in the United States occur in wildlife, many humans receiving post-exposure treatment for possible rabies exposure are a result of exposure to domestic animals. Your pet and other domestic animals can be infected if bitten by a rabid wild animal or an unvaccinated domestic pet. Vaccinating your pet helps ensure human and pet protection from rabies. The current rabies vaccines are very effective. This greatly reduces the confusion and concern about rabies if your vaccinated pet bites or gets bitten. Indiana state law requires that dogs and cats receive vaccination for rabies starting at three months of age. At three months of age, the first vaccine given to your pet is only effective for one year. Currently both one-year and three-year vaccines are approved for use in dogs and cats in Indiana. Your veterinarian is the best source for selecting the most suitable rabies protection for your pet, based upon the age, breed, lifestyle, and species of your pet. Rabies vaccinations can only be given by a licensed, accredited veterinarian.
What if my pet is exposed to Rabies? Avoid direct contact with the wound area (wear gloves if necessary) and contact your veterinarian immediately for advice. If your pet's rabies vaccination is current, your animal may need a booster dose. Unvaccinated animals exposed to a known or suspected rabid animal must either be quarantined for six months of observation or humanely destroyed and examined for rabies. The only valid test for rabies must be done on a deceased animal.
How can Rabies be prevented?
- Keep vaccinations up to date for all dogs, cats, and ferrets.
- Keep your pet under supervision to prevent contact with wild or unvaccinated animals.
- Seek immediate attention if a wild or unknown domestic animal bites yourself or your pet.
- Report animals bites to people to the county health department or its designated agency (animal control). The state department of health records bites as well as positive rabies cases. All testing for rabies is done at one laboratory in Indianapolis.
- Contact your local animal agency to remove unvaccinated stray animals from your neighborhood.
- Spay or neuter your pets to reduce the number of unwanted pets that may remain non-vaccinated.
- Do not feed, handle, or otherwise attract wild animals.
What if I receive an animal bite? Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for ten minutes and seek immediate medical attention from your physician. If the animal is a vaccinated pet (dog, cat, or ferret), it should be quarantined for ten days to ensure that it was free of rabies at the time of the bite incident. If the vaccine status of the animal is unknown or if it is a wild animal, it may need to be captured and tested for rabies. If the biting animal is unavailable, your physician and local health officials will determine if post-exposure treatment is required.