• Dr. Magen LaPOrte

Rabies and Your Pet

September 28 is World Rabies Day, a global health observance started in 2007 to raise awareness about the burden of rabies and bring together partners to enhance prevention and control efforts worldwide. Rabies is a 100% preventable disease, but thousands of people and animals die from the disease each year.

Quick Facts

  • In 2016, rabies was diagnosed in 4,910 animals in the United States. Bats represented the largest population of rabid animals, with raccoons and skunks not far behind.

  • Since 2003, there have been 40 human cases of Rabies in the United States, 37 of which resulted in death.

  • Rabies is responsible for 1 death every 15 minutes worldwide and 4/10 deaths are in children.

  • Rabies cases are not unheard of in our area! More than half of all rabid domestic animals reported in 2016 were found in these 5 states: VA, PA, TX, NY, MD.

  • Cats are the most common domestic animal infected with rabies.

  • Rabies can only be diagnosed after death, through microscopic examination of the brain.

What is Rabies?

  • A deadly viral disease that attacks the nervous system

  • Virus is secreted in saliva and is transmitted to people/animals from an infected animal when saliva comes in contact with an open wound on the skin or the eyes/nose/mouth

  • Once signs of the disease appear, rabies is nearly 100% fatal.

What animals can get rabies?

  • Only mammals

  • Most cases occur in bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes

  • Fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians do not contract/carry rabies

What are the signs of rabies?

  • Fearfulness, aggression, excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing, paralysis, seizures

  • Rabid animals can also be uncharacteristically affectionate or may display sensitivity to light

  • Rabid wild animals may lose their natural fear of humans

Rabies prevention

  • Have your veterinarian vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferret and livestock for rabies

  • Reduce the possibility of exposure by not letting your pets roam free and by supervising dogs while they’re outside

  • Do not pet/approach stray dogs or cats or owned animals without first checking with their human. Teach children how, or whether to, approach a dog:

  • Do not leave garbage or pet food exposed outside of your home, as this may attract wild/stray animals.

  • Do not approach or handle wild animals. If you see a wild animal acting strangely, report it to your local animal control.

  • Bat proof your home and other outbuildings:

What if my pet has bitten someone?

  • The victim should see a physician immediately

  • Check with your veterinarian to determine if your pet’s rabies vaccination is up-to-date.

  • Report the bite to the local health department and animal control (local regulations may require the pet to be confined/isolated for monitoring from signs of rabies).

  • Immediately report any illness or unusual behavior by your pet to your veterinarian and the local health department.

  • Do not let your pet stray and do not rehome your pet during the period of confinement/isolation.

  • Have your pet vaccinated for rabies after the observation period if their rabies vaccination was not current.

What is my pet has been bitten?

  • Consult your veterinarian and report the bite to local animal control.

  • Even if your pet is current on their rabies vaccination, he/she should be revaccinated immediately, kept under the owner’s control and observed for a period as specified by local law.

  • Dogs, cats and ferrets that have NEVER been rabies vaccinated and are exposed to rabid animal may need to be euthanized or placed in strict isolation for six month.

Rabies vaccination

  • Under NH state law every dog, cat, and ferret 3 months of age and older must be vaccinated against rabies.

  • Vaccines start protecting dogs and cats about a month after they are vaccinated.

  • A dog’s first rabies vaccination is valid for one year. Thereafter, dogs may be vaccinated for rabies every 3 years.

  • We recommend yearly rabies vaccination for cats.

  • Indoor-only cats need rabies vaccinations too! Cats can escape and wildlife can sometimes access the home!

  • The rabies vaccine is a killed product, meaning it contains inactive virus. The vaccine cannot cause rabies. It is a small volume liquid that is injected under the skin, usually in the right hind leg.

  • Vaccine reactions are rare: one study of over 1 million dogs reported a reaction rate of 38/10,000

  • Seek veterinary care immediately if any of these signs develop soon after vaccination: persistent vomiting or diarrhea, hives/itchy skin, swelling of the muzzle/face/neck/eyes, severe coughing or difficulty breathing, collapse


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