Rabies 101: What Every Pet Owner Should Know

A dog with a funny smile.

Rabies is a terrible and scary disease that should not be taken lightly. As a pet owner, is important to understand how rabies affects you and your pet. Read on to find out more about rabies.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a viral infection that travels up the spinal cord to the brain and then starts to replicate in the salivary glands. It is zoonotic disease, which means it can spread from animals to humans. Once clinical signs appear, the disease is almost always fatal. Unvaccinated cats and dogs are highly at risk for contracting rabies.

Is My Pet At Risk For Contracting Rabies?

Yes. Any warm-blooded mammal is at risk and that includes your pet. Even if your pet is mostly or strictly indoors, they are at risk of contracting rabies by infected animals that are able to enter the home and yard such as bats, squirrels, skunks, and raccoons. While a fenced in yard keeps your pet from wandering, it is not an effective means of keeping wildlife out. It is always safe to assume that every pet is at risk for contracting rabies.

How is Rabies Spread?

Rabies is spread primarily through saliva that comes in contact with a bite or open wound. According to the Center for Disease Control, there are very rare documentations of the disease being spread through other means such as mucous membranes or by sneezing. Dog bites from infected canines or felines can also spread the disease.

What Should I Do if My Pet Has Come in Contact With Rabies?

First and foremost, contact your veterinarian to schedule an appointment immediately. Your vet will let you know the best course of action for dealing with a possible infection, which may include a booster of his or her rabies vaccine even if he or she is up to date.

It is best not to handle your pet’s wounds because of the risk of self-exposure. Separate your pet from other pets and family members in the household. Contact your local health department immediately to report possible exposure. They will provide with next steps including instructions for quarantine.

Do not attempt to catch or capture a possibly infected wild animal because of the risk it poses to your own health. If the animal is still present near the area, the health department will dispatch local animal control to capture the wild animal that you believe may be infected, as they are sometimes able to send out the deceased animal for testing.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Rabies Infection?

There are several phases of rabies. Your pet may experience one or all of these phases. Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Extreme affection
  • Nervousness
  • Aggravation and aggression
  • Sensitivity to light and/or touch
  • Possible fever
  • Eating unusual things
  • Paralysis of the jaw, mouth, and/or throat
  • Weakness, seizures, and disorientation.

Any abnormal behavior should be considered a possible sign. There is no clinical test for rabies and once signs are present, there is no cure.

How Can I Prevent My Pet From Contracting Rabies?

At this time, vaccinating your pet for rabies is the only way to help protect your pet from a possible rabies infection. We can totally eradicate this disease by keeping our pets current on their rabies vaccine. Rabies vaccinations are also required by law, in most states and an unregistered, unvaccinated pet is ground for a heavy fine by your township.

Contact Berkeley Veterinary Center at 732-269-3600 for questions concerning your pet’s health or about protecting your pet from deadly rabies virus.

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