Today the world is being reminded that it takes all of us, ESPECIALLY those of us who love animals, to keep us all safe from rabies.
What is rabies? It’s a very old contagious disease dating back to the 23rd century BC. The name is derived from the Sanskrit word rabhas meaning to do violence.
Rabies is most often transmitted when an infected animal bites an uninfected one. Rabies can also be transmitted if infectious material from a rabid animal, such as saliva, gets directly into the eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound. Petting a rabid animal or contact with blood, urine or feces of a rabid animal does not spread rabies.
The virus travels to the brain through the nerves. Once it reaches the brain, rabies causes brain damage. Animals with the “furious” form may seem agitated, may bite or snap at imaginary and real objects, and will drool excessively. However, animals may exhibit the “dumb” form of rabies and may appear tame and seem to have no fear of humans. Other signs of infection may include an animal appearing drunk or wobbly, seeming partially paralyzed, acting disoriented, or mutilating itself.
Rabies is transmitted to humans and kills around 55,000 people worldwide annually.
What can you do to prevent rabies?
Vaccinate your companion animals. Even if your cats are indoor-only, most local ordinances or state laws require regular rabies vaccination. After all, rodents can spread rabies and rodents have been known to come inside of homes. If your unvaccinated pet is bitten by an animal known or suspected to have rabies, your animal will have to be quarantined for up to six months to be sure he or she doesn’t have rabies.
Don’t allow companion animals to roam. That means keep your dog on a leash and keep your cats indoors. WHAT? Keep my dog on a leash? Keep my cat inside? Keep my pet vaccinated? Yes, yes, and yes.
If you or your pet is bitten by an animal, seek immediate attention. Have your pet seen by your vet. You see your doctor or go to the emergency room. Medical professionals are required to report the bite to the local health department, who will most likely contact you about the bite. When I was bitten by a dog, the local animal control office sent an officer to the home to verify the dog was up to date on vaccinations, then checked back with the dog’s owner a week later to make sure the dog showed no signs of rabies.
Raccoons have the highest rate of rabies infection, but bats are most likely to spread the disease to humans. If you see a bat in a room where persons are sleeping, assume the sleepers were bitten and seek medical attention. Other animals that have high rates of rabies infection are foxes, squirrels, opossums, and skunks.
Which leads me to this controversial bit of advice: Don’t feed or pet stray and/or wild animals. Yes, you love cats and you don’t want the ferals to starve. But feeding them guarantees other creatures will also come to feed, and that increases the likelihood someone in the neighborhood will come in contact with a rabid animal. If you want to care for the strays, trap/neuter/return is a good practice. That ensures the cats are vaccinated. For those who choose to feed without managing a feral colony, the results can be tragic.
There is no cure for rabies once the infected animal shows symptoms, and rabies is almost always fatal. That’s why it’s important to seek immediate medical care. A vaccine before the virus reaches the brain may save a life.
Don’t play around with rabies, my friend. Take precautions to keep yourself and other living creatures safe!