This month I am writing about Rabies and the Rabies vaccine, a very important vaccination that all of our pets should have, and are legally required to have. Rabies is a viral neurological disease that can affect all mammals, and it always fatal when contracted. The rabies vaccine is given to our pets to protect them and the owners if there is exposure to this disease, usually due to contact with a wild animal that is rabid. The wild animals that are most known to potentially carry rabies are Raccoons, Bats, Red and Gray Foxes, Skunks, and Coyotes.
The rabies vaccine protocol for dogs is the following: It is first given when they are 12 weeks or older, it is protective for a year. After the first year, it can be given yearly or every 3 years depending on the labeling of the vaccine. Certification and a tag are always given to the owner for record of the vaccine. Again, it legally required in North Carolina for the rabies to be performed if the dog is old enough for the vaccine.
The vaccine protocol for cats is the following: It can be given at 8 weeks old if it is a certain type of Rabies vaccine especially formulated for cats, but it would have to be given a booster 3-4 weeks later. At St. Francis, we usually wait until 12 weeks or older to vaccinate cats for Rabies, so it will be effective for the year. As with dogs, after the first year, it can be boostered yearly or every 3 years depending on the vaccine’s label. Certification and a tag are given to the owner as proof of vaccination as well.
If you suspect that your pet has been exposed to rabies and it has been vaccinated, please give us a call. The animal will likely need to be given a booster, and also may be inspected for wounds. The booster of the vaccine after potential exposure is suggested because the immune response is strengthened after vaccinating, and will lessen the chances of developing the disease.
If you noticed that I have been stressing the legal requirement for this vaccine, you have been reading closely! The legal aspect of this vaccine makes it unique because no other medical treatment is required by law. Also, the legal ramifications may be enacted even if the animal is NOT likely exposed to the disease, but only because of the lack of vaccination status. The dates of certification are very rigid by law, it is the date interval on the certificate, and that’s it. If the vaccine is overdue by one day or 2 years, it is overdue! Legal complications of an overdue rabies vaccine can be the following: If a dog or cat bites another animal or human, it can be quarantined, if a dog or cat gets into a fight with another animal or has wounds from an unknown source, it can be quarantined. The worst case scenario is that the animal gets exposed, which is rare, and contracts the disease. In this case, it would be required to euthanize and test the animal for the disease. This could endanger other animals and people as well. A scenario, which is more likely, is that if a human is bitten by an unvaccinated animal or by one that has a legally lapsed vaccine, it is required by a medical professional to report this to the county health department. This would lead to a quarantine of the animal. Depending on the situation, the period of quarantine could be up to 45 days or more. These scenarios can be avoided if the vaccine is up to date. The quarantine protocol is determined by the Mecklenburg County Health Department, not individual veterinary professionals. It is designed to protect the health of pet owners and others who may come into contact with that individual animal.
A question that I have heard often is: My cat is an indoor cat, why does it need to be vaccinated?! First of all, it is legally required. Also, there are certain situations that have led to complications due to overdue vaccination or non-compliance. For example, an indoor cat escaped from its house, it found a certain time later outside with wounds of an unknown origin. If it is not vaccinated or has been lapsed rabies vaccine, it will have to be quarantined. If it is found to have been exposed to rabies, it would likely have to be euthanized. Cats are more susceptible to contracting the disease as a species, compared to dogs, but they are less likely to be exposed if they are indoors. They cannot control the potential exposure to this disease, they do not know better! Another potential situation: A bat has gotten into the house and the cat was exposed to the bat. Again, lack of rabies vaccine compliance can make things complicated for that cat and its owners. I stress, these situations can be avoided!!!
Thus ends the Rabies discussion. In short, it is a deadly disease which has no cure. Reducing potential exposure and keeping your pets vaccinated against this disease is important for the health of your animal AND you!!! Also, the potential legal hassles can be avoided!!! If you have any questions, please let us know at your next visit.
Dr. Jaime Kozelka
St. Francis Hospital for Animals