We’ve all seen movies like “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Cujo” where rabid dogs menace the townspeople and the only solution to the problem is slaughtering the diseased animal. Luckily, according to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, a 4.8 percent decrease in the incidence of rabies-infected animals was reported by the Centers for Disease Control from 2012 to 2013 – the latest available figures.

Only 4.2 percent (247) of those reported cases concerned cats, while 1.5 percent (85 cases) involved dogs. Since 1980, more cases of rabies have been reported in cats than in dogs in this country, states the American Association of Feline Practitioners. The main sources of animals infected with rabies focuses around raccoons (32.4%), bats (27.2%), skunks (24.7%) and foxes (5.9%).

Fortunately, for all pet parents, the solution means vaccinating our pets against rabies; the best – and only – option to prevent our furry companions from contracting this disease.

How is rabies transmitted to pets?

Animals infected with the rabies virus secrete large amounts of the micro-organism in the saliva. The disease is most commonly passed by animal bites from contaminated animals to household pets. It can also be transferred when infected saliva makes contact with an open wound or through a scratch that slices through the first layer of skin and causes bleeding.

What are the signs and symptoms of rabies?

As we all know, rabies is a virus of all warm-blooded animals that, if not treated immediately when contracted by humans, is universally fatal. There is no known cure.

The disease travels through the nerves up the spinal cord and into the brain, where it multiplies rapidly and spreads to other organs and glands, including the salivary glands. The average time of incubation from exposure to brain involvement is 3 to 8 weeks in dogs and 2 to 6 weeks in cats. However, once it reaches the brain, your unvaccinated and infected pet will show with one, two, or all three of the symptomatic disease phases.

  1. Prodromal Rabies – This early stage of rabies usually lasts for 2-3 days in dogs and only 1-2 days in cats. An animal in this phase shows signs of anxiety, nervousness, apprehension, and a need for solitude. You might also notice signs of fever. Personality changes can range from friendly animals becoming snappish, shy or irritable to aggressive animals showing as docile and affectionate. Your infected pet may incessantly lick at the site of the bite. Cats tend to exhibit less erratic behavior than dogs and fewer spikes in fever.
  2. Furious Rabies – The second stage usually lasts from 1 to 7 days and appears more often in cats than it does in dogs. Your pet will become more irritable and hyper-responsive to visual and auditory stimuli. With increased restlessness, comes a tendency to want to roam and intensified aggression. Caged pets may bite and attack their enclosures before becoming disoriented, having seizures and dying.
  3. Paralytic Rabies – Pets may develop this third stage of rabies after either the prodromal or furious phase. The paralytic stage typically develops within 2 to 4 days after the initial onset of symptoms and can be seen with deep, labored breathing and a drooping jaw as the nerves of the diaphragm and the facial muscles become progressively paralyzed. Uncontrollable salivation results as the increased dysfunction of the nerves of the throat and salivary glands inhibits the ability of the affected animal to swallow. Many diseased pets make a choking sound similar to that of something being lodged in the throat. Eventually, the rabid animal weakens, goes into respiratory failure and dies.

How is rabies diagnosed?

At this time, the only sure way to diagnose rabies in symptomatic pets is to euthanize the animal and submit the brain for laboratory microscopic analysis. The exam is typically performed in your state’s health department. In Texas, the Texas Department of State Health Services in Austin is the primary rabies diagnostic facility in the state.

Some veterinary scientists are currently studying and testing diagnostic techniques using skin and/or blood samples, but these procedures are not currently available to the public or the general veterinary community.

How can I prevent rabies in my pets?

Vaccinating your pets is the only proven way to prevent a rabies infection as studies have shown that properly vaccinated animals stand a very minimal chance of contracting the disease.

Typical vaccination protocol for dogs and cats includes the initial rabies vaccination at 8 weeks of age for kittens and 12-16 weeks for puppies. Different states regulate the age at which the vaccine is first administered. Subsequent rabies vaccinations occur at 1 year of age for both dogs and cats, with a 3-year rabies vaccine administered to some canines thereafter, depending on your veterinarian and the laws of the state where you live. Texas includes the 3-year vaccine in its rabies vaccination protocol.

While the rabies vaccine is mandatory in all states of the US, the AVMA estimates that up to half of all dogs are not vaccinated. The laws governing required – or core – vaccines (including rabies) for cats vary from state to state even though statistics show that more cats are infected with rabies annually than dogs.

Some basic tips for preventing rabies in your pets include:

  • Regular vaccinations for all pets.
  • Keep your furry companions away from wild, unfamiliar or stray animals and don’t let your pets roam where they can run into potentially rabid animals.
  • If a wild animal bites your pet, contact your veterinarian and your local animal control agency for advice on how to handle the situation. Pets with current vaccinations on record are typically treated and allowed to remain at home, however, unvaccinated animals can be held in quarantine for 10 days to assess the pet’s health and look for rabies symptoms according to the laws of the residing state.

Have questions about rabies? Don’t hesitate to contact us.

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