Rabies and Your Pets

Rabies: How Real is the Risk?

Within the last two months alone two separate rabies positive animals have been reported in Norwich, VT. A rabies positive bat was found on Norfolk Pond Road and a rabies positive raccoon was taken from Happy Hill Road. Rabies vaccination is required by law for all dogs, cats, and ferrets. Vaccination is strongly recommended for all cattle, horses, goats, sheep, llamas, and alpacas. The initial rabies vaccine for a dog must be given after 12 weeks of age and is valid for 1 year, each vaccine after that is valid for 3 years. Vaccinations for cats and ferrets are only valid for 1 year. Owners concerned with vaccinating their animals each year can choose to have blood drawn to be sent in for a titer-which will reveal whether the animal has enough antibodies present to fight off the virus.

Rabies is a 100% FATAL viral infection that can affect all warm-blooded animals- including people. The virus is carried in the saliva of an infected animal and thus is usually transmitted through a bite wound. The virus then affects the nervous system of the bitten animal, and travels along the nerves to the brain. In addition to bats and raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes are typical carries of the virus. Wildlife that has been affected by the virus is often found in open areas during inappropriate times of the day (ie raccoons roaming in the afternoon), can be unusually aggressive and exhibit odd behaviors such as tremors, circling or a head tilt.

If your pet has an injury or bite wound of unknown origin it is important that you contact River Road Veterinary Clinic immediately, even if your pet has a current rabies vaccination. A precautionary rabies booster will help ensure that your pet does not contract this devastating illness. More cats are infected with rabies than any other pet. Symptoms of the virus can take anywhere from several days to three months to appear and death usually occurs within 10 days of the onset of symptoms. Lameness, inability to eat, excessive salivation, hyperexcitability, aggression, anxiety, depression, lethargy, tremors, incoordination, dilated pupils, difficulty swallowing, convulsions, circling, fear of water, head pressing, staring at walls and a head tilt are all symptoms that your pet may be infected with rabies. If you notice any of these symptoms and it is possible that your animal has been exposed to any wildlife (please keep in mind that bats are often able to find their way into people’s homes) call your veterinarian immediately.

Animals that are previously unvaccinated and have had potential interaction with wildlife are often required to be quarantined in order to rule out rabies exposure. This is because rabies can only be definitively diagnosed by examining brain tissue- which requires euthanasia of the animal.

If you notice any wildlife acting strangely please call your local animal control authorities. Never attempt to approach any wildlife or domestic animals with unknown vaccine history who are behaving strangely. If you are bitten by an animal with unknown vaccine history or a wild animal contact your doctor immediately.

Center for Disease Control- Rabies

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