Rabies tends to be one of those conditions that everyone has heard of, but very few people actually know a great deal about. It is zoonotic, meaning it can be passed from animals to humans, and poses a significant threat to both being almost always fatal. Therefore, understanding the condition and what you can do to prevent it should be a significant priority for all responsible pet owners.
What is rabies?
Rabies is a serious infection of the brain and central nervous system. It is rare in domestic animals, but when it is passed to them, it is usually because they have been bit by a wild creature that has been infected with the disease – most often raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. This is because the infectious virus particles are retained in the saliva of the infected animal.
Once bitten, the virus passes into your pet’s body where it replicates in the cells of the muscles and the nerve fibers, eventually traveling to the central nervous system. The virus does not reach full strength immediately and instead can take up to 4 weeks to develop. However, once your pet reaches the point that the symptoms become apparent, the virus spreads rapidly and a painful death can occur as quickly as within 10 days.
Types and signs of rabies
Rabies tends to affect animals in two different ways and these have been given two separate names – furious rabies and paralytic rabies.
Furious rabies is the most well-known, characterized by extreme behavioral changes such as sudden aggression, excessive salivation or frothy saliva, excessive excitability and seizures. Paralytic rabies, as the name suggests, manifests in the form of weakness and loss of coordination. Animals that have paralytic rabies tend to experience a dropped jaw, difficulty swallowing and lameness. However, this can progress to respiratory distress as your pet finds himself unable to regular his breathing, as well as heart arrhythmia.
The good news is that rabies is 100% preventable thanks to the creation of a successful vaccine. By choosing to vaccinate your pet against rabies, you are not only protecting him from becoming unwell in the even that he is bit by a wild animal carrying the disease, you are also protecting other animals that he may come into contact with. You are also keeping the human members of your family safe, who would be at extreme risk of developing rabies if your pet were to contract the virus. Protection enables you and your pets to avoid painful, debilitating symptoms and a swift and unpleasant death.
Dogs and cats should first be vaccinated against rabies between 4 and 6 months of age. Booster shots should then be administered one year from this date, and then in accordance with local laws.
The legal requirement for rabies vaccinations
Most states in the U.S. specifically regulate the administration of rabies vaccinations to domestic animals including dogs, cats and ferrets. The exact frequency with which these should be administered does vary between states, and while some prescribe a specific interval, others take guidance from the manufacturer of the vaccine that they use. Failure to adhere to state law could see you in receipt of a hefty fine and there is every chance that your animal could be taken away and even destroyed. Therefore, it is essential that you carefully check the requirements for rabies vaccinations for the state in which you live.
If you would like more information about rabies and the importance of vaccinating your pet, or if you are concerned that your pet isn’t currently protected and you would like to schedule an appointment for him to receive the vaccine, please contact our vet office in Waldwick.