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Kirkwood Animal Hospital

October 2021 Newsletter: The Importance of Rabies Vaccinations

Cat looking at dog

This month we wanted to re-emphasize the importance of keeping your pet’s rabies vaccination current. It’s not only the law, it’s vital to your pet’s health — and your own.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a deadly viral infection of the nervous system that can impact all mammals — including dogs, cats and humans. Rabies causes a sudden and progressive inflammation within the brain and spinal cord that once the clinical signs are displayed is fatal.

Given the severity of this viral infection, owners are required by law to have their pets vaccinated to prevent the transmission of the disease. And having your pet vaccinated is the only way to protect them from this fatal infection.

How is Rabies Contracted?

Rabies is contracted through the saliva of an infected animal (such as racoons, squirrels, rats, skunks, bats, unvaccinated dog/cat, etc.) when it enters the body — typically via a bite or an existing wound. It can take up to three months for a pet to exhibit symptoms after being infected.

Fortunately, the probability of your pet encountering an infected wild animal in our area is low — but this risk is greatly elevated when pets are not vaccinated against the rabies virus. Even given the low incidence of this disease, the consequence is severe for pets and humans as it is fatal.

What are the Symptoms?

Initially, animals infected with rabies can act erratically or can be stricken with partial paralysis.

Animals acting erratically can exhibit increasing signs of agitation or aggression. Unfortunately, some of the early signs associated with rabies — such as a change in behavior, fever, loss of appetite, apprehensiveness, nervousness or irritability — can mirror other illnesses. Interestingly, some pets become excessively affectionate during the early stages of rabies. When the initial signs have progressed, infected animals may become exceptionally aggressive, showing teeth and using claws. Noise, lights or fast movements can provoke attacks and the typical fear of others may wane.

From rabies, paralysis of the throat and jaw muscles, including a drooping of the lower jaw, is common. This condition combined with the lack of ability to swallow can lead to excessive salivation which may be visible.

As the disease progresses, seizures and lack of muscle coordination are common. Death is caused by progressive paralysis often from an inability to breathe.

What is the Cure?

Believe it or not, there is no cure for rabies once the disease has progressed. Not for dogs. Not for cats. Not for people. This is why so many countries, states and municipalities have strict laws requiring pet vaccinations for rabies.

Pets that may have been exposed should be immediately re-vaccinated, any wounds cleanedquarantined and monitored for symptoms. Unfortunately, a diagnosis can only be confirmed via a biopsy of the brain after the animal has passed.

What is the risk to me?

People can contract rabies from their pet’s bite wound inflicted by an infected animal. So, wear disposable gloves when inspecting your pet after an altercation — and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water. Importantly, you should contact us to arrange and examination, and reach out to your local health department so the necessary protocols can be followed.

If you are bitten, contact your doctor immediately or visit your local ER. If necessary, an anti-rabies serum can be administered in attempt to interrupt the disease’s progression. Any animal that bites a person must be confined for at least 10 days to determine if rabies develops.

What Should I Do?

First, ensure your pets are vaccinated against rabies as this is their single line of protection. Be sure to get all required boosters on time as they protect your pet and you. This is your obligation as a pet owner.

Also, be mindful of your pet’s whereabouts — keeping a close eye on them when outside. Do not let them approach or chase any wild animals — particularly those that may be acting erratically. A leash is often your best option here.

And should your pet have a scuffle or fight with another, contact the owner to ensure all participating animals are fully vaccinated. And call us to arrange for a thorough examination of your pet.

Questions? If you have any questions, please contact us. We are here to help you and your pets.