dog-w-rabiesEveryone has heard about rabies. We know about it from a neighbor that had a rabid animal in their yard or from the classic movie, Ol’ Yeller. This virus has been around since ancient times and continues to be a problem. We need to be aware of this problem today as much as in the past.

Rabies has the potential to infect any warm blooded animal, animals that can regulate their own body temperature. This includes our pets, livestock, wild animals and humans. Since this is a problem that can affect humans, it is a very serious public health concern. It can be transmitted through the transfer of infected saliva to an open wound. The most common transmission is through bites, but the saliva can enter any open wound and infect a new host.

There are very good vaccines to protect our pets and even the humans. The humans are generally only vaccinated if they are at increased risk to exposure. That is of course those working with wildlife, animal control officers, and veterinary staff. However, all of our pets should be vaccinated against rabies, even if they live indoors. The main reason is due to state law. All cats, dogs and some exotic pets must be vaccinated. The other reason is for the pet’s protection. There is no guarantee that our beloved pets will not escape, even for a little time, and be exposed to a rabid animal. The vaccine is very good and is very inexpensive, especially when you consider the cost of losing our pets.

Everyone has seen a raccoon or fox in the backyard, but how do you know if it is rabid? The first thing is to assume that any wildlife has the potential to be rabid. DO NOT attempt to pet any wild animals. However, once an animal shows symptoms, it will look one of two ways. The first is called the dumb form. The animal will act drunk and very lethargic. It will not be aware of its surroundings. The second form is called the rage form. This is what most of us think about due to Hollywood. The animal will attack other animals or people for no apparent reason.

Either type should be avoided and animal control should be notified immediately if you see animals in an apparent rabid state. DO NOT attempt to help trap or kill the animal unless there is immediate threat to yourself or someone near you. Contact animal control immediately.

This problem seems to be mostly related to wild animals, and I live in the city. Why do I need to worry about this problem? Yes, 90% of rabies cases occur in wild animals, but 8% occur in domestic animals. In 2012, there were 373 positive cases in Georgia with only 3 other states reporting more cases. Of the reported cases in domestic animals, 53% were in cats and 19% were in dogs. This is an increase of 6% in our dogs. With the availability of good vaccines, why is this number increasing. Simple, we are not vaccinating our pets. It has not been a major problem, and we have become complacent. Do not risk your family’s or your pet’s life over a simple vaccine.

Do not take this disease lightly. It is an extremely preventable problem, if we vaccinate against it. Make sure you protect your pets and especially your family against this terrible disease. Talk to your veterinarian about any more concerns that were not addressed here. Now go out and enjoy the outdoors with a little more knowledge.