Protecting your pet from rabies

September 28 is World Rabies Day and as good a time as any to talk about the steps you can take to protect your pet from rabies. But before we get into the nitty-gritty details, first we need to talk about what rabies is.


What is rabies?

Rabies is a preventable virus that can affect dogs, cats, humans, any warm-blooded animal at all. It attacks the brain and spinal cord and can be found in every country around the world except for Australia and Antarctica. Rabies can be fatal and is spread when the saliva of an infected animal comes into contact with mucous membranes such as the nose, mouth or eyes or from a cut or puncture wound as a result of an animal bite. The virus is commonly carried by wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats and can be transmitted to domestic animals. Fortunately, rabies in domestic animals is incredibly rare thanks to vaccination programs, but it is still important that you know what to do in the unlikely event that your pet interacts with a wild animal that might be a carrier of the rabies virus.



What are the symptoms of rabies infection?

Animals with rabies will excrete large volumes of saliva and exhibit behavioural changes, becoming restless, agitated or even aggressive. As the infection spreads, a fever may develop, followed by a sensitivity to light, sound or touch, which may cause the animal to seek out dark, quiet places to hide. Paralysis of the throat and jaw comes next which causes foaming at the mouth, followed by paralysis of the legs and disorientation, staggering and incoordination which is swiftly followed by death.


What can I do to protect my pet from rabies?

The easiest thing you can do to protect your pet from rabies is to have it vaccinated. Vaccinating your pet against preventable diseases such as rabies is not just advisable, but is required by law in some provinces, territories or states. Puppies and kittens should receive their first rabies vaccine at 12 weeks of age. The rabies vaccine not only protects your pet, but it protects any human or other animals that they may bite as well. If your pet bites another dog or cat or a human, they are often quarantined for days or weeks afterwards to ensure the rabies virus does not develop in the person or animal they have bitten. If your pet does not have a current vaccination record, they could end up spending more time than necessary locked away.



Another simple thing you can do to protect your pet is to keep them on a short leash when walking in areas where you may come across wild animals, or even when you take your pet out into your yard, particularly late at night when nocturnal animals may be visiting. Do not encourage wild animals to enter your yard by leaving food outside and consider feeding your pet indoors. You should also animal proof your trash by locking lids on trash cans and do not leave bags of rubbish outside of trash cans.

If your pet has been bitten or scratched by a wild animal that might be a carrier of the rabies virus, you should get your pet to your nearest veterinarian immediately, even if your pet has been vaccinated against the rabies virus. Wrap your pet in a towel and use gloves if you have them to avoid coming into contact with any saliva that may be on your pet's coat. Do not wait for symptoms of rabies infection to appear as this can take weeks or months and by then it could be too late.

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