SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Lifestyle

April 19, 2013

Protecting people and pets from rabies

As more and more people question the need to vaccinate their pets against infectious diseases, veterinarians are increasingly concerned about the resurgence of a killer. Thankfully, rabies is rare here in North America, but a reservoir of the disease is present in our wildlife. What’s the chance of your pet encountering a rabid animal?

It’s a scenario that happens all too often as urban sprawl encounters rural farmland and wooded areas. You hear aggressive barking and maybe a high-pitched “yip” or two. Looking out your window, you see your beloved dog in an all-out battle with a raccoon! After breaking up the fight, your mind races as you check your dog for wounds and wonder about the chance of rabies.

Every year in North America, the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) monitors the prevalence of rabies. Thousands of wild animals test positive every year and, despite mandatory vaccines for pets, hundreds of cats, dogs, horses and other domestic animals contract this killer, as well. The good news is that rabies cases in people and domestic animals have decreased throughout the 20th century, but only continued vigilance will ensure our ongoing safety.

Several variant strains of rabies exist in North America, including strains found in skunks, raccoon, foxes and bats. Although these different rabies variants prefer certain hosts, they are capable of infecting almost any mammal, including people. And, despite reports of the canine strain of rabies being extinct in the United States, vaccines are still needed to protect our pets and us.

Laws may vary slightly, but all states require dogs to be vaccinated against rabies. Many also require cats and pet ferrets to be vaccinated, as well. For most pets, an initial vaccine after 12 weeks of age starts the series and this vaccine is “boosted” when the pet is a year old. Depending on local laws and the veterinarian’s discretion, your pet might be vaccinated with a “three-year” or a “one-year” vaccine.

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