The word conjures up a variety of terrible images, and Rabies is not a disease that should be taken lightly.
Rabies is a progressive disease that is found throughout the world, and can affect any mammal, although it usually occurs in carnivores and bats.
In the United States there are several variants, and the strains are described by the animals that host (serve as a reservoir) and vector (transmission path), so if a dog transmits rabies to another dog, it is “Canine Rabies”; if a racoon transmits the disease to a dog, it is “Racoon Rabies”.
throughout the world there are many different variations, but in the United States the most commonly reported cases have been in racoons (in the wild), and in cats (domesticated animals).
The disease is usually transmitted by the bite of a rabid animal, which carries virus laden saliva into the animals tissues;there is a SLIGHT risk of transmission through an open wound or the mucous membranes, but this is very unlikely.
The saliva is infectious when symptoms appear, but it is possible for the virus to be shed a few days before the appearance of symptoms.
The incubation period of the disease varies-in dogs the period from contact to disease is usually 21 to 80 days, but may be longer or short. There has been one documented case in the United States (in a human) in which in took 6 years from exposure to actual disease!
When Rabies travels in an animal, it starts in the peripheral nerves (nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord), travels to the spinal cord and then to the brain. After it reaches the brain, it travels to the salivary glands, which secrete it into the saliva.
Signs of illness vary among different animals and cases, but are frequently a sudden change of behavior, which can be increased nervousness, irritability, excitability, lack of appetite, and paralysis. A normally docile puppy might become aggressive, a wild animal may lose it’s fear of humans. A nocturnal animal may begin wandering during the day.
There are two “forms” of Rabies, based on the presentation of symptoms.
“Furious” form is the image of the ‘mad dog” that most of us picture when the word Rabies is heard-in this presentation, the animal becomes irritable and may become aggressive.
“Paralytic” form presents as a progressive paralysis which begins in the mouth and throat, and progresses to the entire body.
Diagnosis can be difficult to make based on symptoms, and must be done by a qualified lab that is able to examine the fresh brain tissue of the animal, so the animal must be euthanized for testing.
That being said, PREVENTION is the most important means of managing Rabies in pets.
Current recommendations for an unvaccinated dog, cat, or ferret is that the animal be euthanized if it has been exposed to Rabies. The other option that a vet may make is strict isolation for 6 months (this means your pet is not in contact with animals or humans), then vaccination about 1 month before release, so routine vaccination is an important part of protecting your pet, and anyone in contact with your pet, especially your family.
Besides routine vaccination, there are other ways to reduce the risk of transmission of this terrible disease.
Compliance with leash laws protects your pet by reducing the risk of contact with other dogs that may be carrying the disease, as well as reducing the risk of exposure to wild animals, especially raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes.
Keep your pets and your family away from wild animals-do not handle or feed them, even if they appear to be friendly. Teach your children never to hand wild animals or unfamiliar domestic animals.
Report any animals you see that are showing symptoms of the disease. Watch for general sickness, problems swallowing, drooling, an animal that is more tame than your would expect, an animal that is repeatedly biting at things, or an animal that is having trouble moving or may be paralyzed. Never touch or pick up dead animals-call your local Animal Control Officer. While the usually transmission route is saliva, it is possible for the disease to still be in the tissues of a recently dead animal….
Spay or neuter your pet to help reduce the number of stray/unwanted animals.
Keep your pet indoors, and be sure a responsible adult supervises your pet whenever he or she is outdoors.
If you have a bat in your house, close all windows and doors expect for exits to the outdoors….the bat will usually find its way out.
RABIES FACTS from the Center for Disease Control
In the United States, approximately 40,000 people receive shots for post exposure prophylaxis due to possible exposure
US Public health costs associated with Rabies exceed $300 million per year
Rabies results in more than 55,000 deaths around the world every year
most deaths from Rabies occur in Africa and Asia-more than 50% of the victims are under 15 years of age
Most human deaths results from bites from an infected dog