What We Feel You Should Know About Rabies

September is Rabies Awareness Month, and September 26th is World Rabies Day. In the spirit of rabies awareness we wanted to discuss some interesting facts about the rabies virus and how our neighborhood is affected by rabies.

According to the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians all dogs, cats, and ferrets should be vaccinated against rabies and re-vaccinated with a booster shot each year. After receiving their first rabies shot, animals develop immunity within 28 days. After this whenever an annual booster is given immunity is immediate.

Rabies is transmitted to people and animals in saliva through bite wounds. The rabies virus can be excreted in the saliva of infected animals before they ever start acting sick. Rabies is most commonly spread to dogs and cats by attacks from wild animals. The rabies virus causes disease within the central nervous system (including the brain) and eventually causes death within a few days of the onset of symptoms.

Wild animals account for 92% of all reported rabies cases in the Unites States. Wild animals that can carry and transmit rabies include: raccoons, skunks, bats, coyotes, and foxes. In our area of the country rabies is found mostly in skunks, bats, and raccoons.
If anyone reading this has spent even a small amount of time in this area, you know of the high prevalence of raccoons, bats, and skunks in our neighborhood. Because of the obvious prevalence of these animals, rabies is a constant threat to us here in Riverdale and the surrounding communities. Just this past August a cat tested positive for rabies in Manhattan. To date this year alone, a total of 10 animals have tested positive for rabies in New York City. This included 7 raccoons and 1 bat in the Bronx, and 1 raccoon and the kitten previously mentioned in Manhattan.

So what is the best way to protect our beloved dogs, cats and ferrets? Well, prevention is always key- so make sure your dogs, cats, and ferrets are up to date on their rabies vaccinations. Another way to protect your pets is by preventing possible exposure to rabies. For cats and ferrets the best way to do this is by keeping them indoors at all times. For dogs, make sure to keep them under direct supervision at all times when outdoors.

If an unvaccinated pet is potentially exposed to a rabid animal, you have only 2 choices. 1- Strict isolation in an enclosure restricted from direct contact with humans or animals for 6 months. 2- Immediate euthanasia. This may seem drastic, but remember rabies is ALWAYS a fatal disease. If your pet is up to date on their rabies vaccine and exposed to a potentially rabid animal you can keep them under your possession and simply observe them for signs of illness for 45 days. BIG DIFFERENCE, right?? It is for this reason that New York City has required by law that all pets are vaccinated against rabies. And we as your veterinarians strongly encourage you to bring all of your animals in for their physical exam and rabies shot each year.

Dr. Luckow