Rabies is a term that most pet owners recognize and then cringe over. Unless you’ve had first-hand experience with this deadly disease, the dangers may feel somewhat remote. However, rabies poses a very real threat to our pets and families, making vaccination and other precautionary measures imperative.
A Closer Look
Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transferred from animals to humans. Caused by a virus, rabies is spread via direct contact with the mucous membranes of an infected animal, (typically through saliva during a bite).
While rabies is more rampant in other parts of the world, it’s still endemic in the Unites States; Hawaii is the only place that remains rabies-free (thanks to an extensive quarantine program).
Frequently reported along the East Coast and in southern Arizona, rabies can affect any warm-blooded mammal, most commonly foxes, raccoons, skunks, and bats.
While transmission through a bite is typical, rabies can spread through any open wound or scratch. The virus enters the body’s tissue, attaches to muscle cells near the point of entry, and finally claims the central nervous system.
Depending on the wound’s location and severity, the period between exposure and obvious symptoms can vary, but it takes about a month for the virus to reach the brain. At this point, treatment is impossible and death is imminent within approximately five days. While there’s no way to test for rabies in a live animal, brain tissue can be examined post-mortem to confirm a case.
The Stages of Rabies
Early symptoms usually involve dramatic shifts in personality or disposition. Abnormal anxiety, aggression, or even uncharacteristic friendliness may be observed. As rabies progresses, animals become extremely sensitive to light and sound. Seizures or bouts of viciousness are common.
Ultimately, the nerves controlling the head and throat become paralyzed, resulting in excessive, unswallowed salivation. Rabies claims its victims after complete respiratory failure.
Protect Your Pet and Family
Luckily, there are proactive measures you can take to minimize the risk of exposure:
- Stay current on your pet’s vaccinations.
- Refrain from approaching animals who appear aggressive or behave abnormally.
- Keep your pet on a leash when out walking.
- Avoid touching wildlife, even if you believe they are ill or injured.
- Animal Control should be notified of any suspicious animal behavior (such as encountering a nocturnal animal in the middle of the day).
- Store garbage in a wildlife-proof bin to deter skunks, raccoons, and other animals.
- Seek immediate medical care if you or your pet is bitten by a strange animal.
Depending on the situation, vaccinated dogs and cats can receive a booster to further protect against rabies if they are bitten. Unvaccinated pets may be forced to undergo a strict quarantine or even euthanasia.
A Long Way
Texas law mandates that pets receive the rabies vaccination by four months of age. Because of this, the dangers associated with rabies are decreased, and our communities become safer and healthier. We must all do our part to prevent the spread of this deadly virus.
We encourage you to contact us with any questions or concerns about rabies, the vaccination, or other ways to protect your family.