Archive for Thursday, March 22, 2001

Rabies vaccine a must for pets

March 22, 2001

By Matt VanderVelde D.V.M.

Rabies is a severe, always fatal viral disease of warm-blooded animals and humans. The overall prevalence of the disease is low, but can be significantly high in areas where it exists, especially underdeveloped countries and anywhere dogs and cats are not routinely vaccinated.

Rabies is found worldwide, with the exception of the British Isles, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Japan and parts of Scandinavia.

In the United States, four strains of the virus are endemic (present but not epidemic).

Wildlife usually carry these strains, particularly fox, raccoons, skunks and bats. All four strains can be transmitted to dogs and cats. The virus enters the body's nervous system via a bite or scratch (contaminated by virus-laden saliva) from the carrier animal.

There is no treatment possible for rabies and once diagnosis is certain, the animal must be put to sleep.

One thing that attracted me and others to the DeSoto area was the scenic beauty and out-the-back-door availability of wildlife viewing. We also have every one of the common carriers of rabies in wildlife, as well as a healthy feral cat and stray dog population.

With this in mind, a vaccine given once a year to your dog or cat (thee-year rabies vaccinations are not recommended in our area) can protect them and your family from the potential exposure to rabid animals.

It's important to remember that humans can get rabies, so you should not handle wildlife unless you are vaccinated against the virus or are an expert in the restraint of wildlife, as are our fish and game men and women.

The vaccine is available in "killed" preparations. That means the animal vaccinated cannot get rabies after the shot is given by a licensed veterinarian.

There is also a vaccine available for ferrets, horses, cattle and sheep. Currently, experimental work is being done in the Northeastern United States to vaccinate wild populations of raccoons to set up a shield against the spread of the deadly virus.

This effort looks very promising. Dogs and cats can be vaccinated as early as three to four months after birth and yearly as an adult each year after.

As I indicated, many professionals question whether a three-year vaccine can last that long.

Secondly, most owners lose track of the schedule when it is done with such irregularity. For the sake of optimum protection and safety, I believe yearly vaccinations are the only way to go.

It's money well spent and you'll be a hero in the eyes of your family, friends and our community.

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