Rabies and Pets
Rabies is a scary disease. It is 100% fatal, and there is no known cure. Rabies infects most mammals, including people and our pets, so it's important we protect them and protect ourselves!
Who spreads rabies?
Rabies is spread primarily through bites from infected animals. In theory just about any mammal can get rabies, but the most common vectors (animals that might bite our pets and give them rabies) are bats, skunks, raccoons, and foxes.
How do we prevent rabies?
Fortunately there are very effective vaccines for our pets, which keep them (and us) safe. It's not fun to get a shot, but it's a lot less fun to get rabies. Rabies vaccines are available for dogs, cats, and ferrets (and people, but your veterinarian cannot give you a rabies vaccine, even if you ask nicely!). If you live on a farm there are also vaccines available for horses, cattle, and sheep.
When bites happen:
Even if your pet is up to date on their rabies vaccine, your veterinarian will likely recommend a post-exposure rabies vaccine if your pet is ever bitten by another animal, just to be safe. Always call your veterinarian if you think your pet may have been bitten or scratched by another animal!
Pets that are not up to date on their rabies vaccine may need to be quarantined for up to six months if they are bitten by a wild animal to ensure they do not have rabies (if the other animal is not available for testing).
Pets that are not up to date on their rabies vaccine and bite another animal or human may be quarantined for 10 days, or in some cases euthanized for testing. It is VERY important that all animals stay up to date on their rabies vaccine!
What about indoor pets?
People often ask, if rabies is spread by other mammals, and my cat is only ever indoors, why does my cat need a vaccine? There is no wildlife in my house!
There are two big reasons we still vaccinate indoor cats (including Dr. Chuck's cat!):
1) We never know when a cat might decide to escape out the front door
2) We never know when a bat might sneak inside!
Bat bites are extremely small, and can be hard to see, so if you find a bat in your house it might not be possible to tell if your animal was bitten. There is also no way for us to test our pets to find out if they have rabies. Because of this, all pets should be vaccinated, just in case!
For more information about rabies and pets (and people), check out the CDC website here:
Did you know?
We tend to think of rabies as being everywhere because it is spread by wild animals, but there are a number of places around the world that are considered rabies-free. This is especially common on islands, where it is easier to prevent rabid animals from entering. These places work extra hard to make sure they stay rabies-free, and often have very strict rules about what animals are allowed in. The CDC keeps a list of these countries, in case you are looking to plan a rabies-free vacation!