In 2014, there were 352 cases of rabies in the state of North Carolina including numerous cases in dogs and cats, which is why rabies vaccination is so important. At the end of July, a 93-year-old Raleigh man was attacked by a rabid fox. This was the second reported case of rabid wild animals attacking residents of the North Carolina Research Triangle in a 3-week period of time.
Rabies Vaccinations are Vital
When you’re a pet parent, there’s a lot of stuff to take into account, and a rabies vaccination should be right at the top of your list. Pet immunizations are extremely important for your furbaby’s long-term health and wellbeing, especially because in NC rabies risks are an ever-present danger to your furry friend, even if your dog or cat lives inside most (or even all!) of the time. Additionally, a rabies vaccination is required by law and you can receive significant fines if your pet is found to be out of date on his or her rabies shots.
Here is what you need to know about rabies, the risk, and how the rabies vaccination can save your pet’s life.
Evaluating Your Pet’s Rabies Risk
There are several lifestyle and environmental factors that can increase your pet’s rabies risk. Of course, the best cure is prevention, which is why all pet parents should keep their animals up to date on rabies immunizations. However, it always helps to arm yourself with knowledge so you can create a life for your pet that will minimize his or her rabies risk!
Some rabies basics are:
- Rabies is a virus that affects the central nervous system. There is no cure for rabies, and most infected animals die within 5 days of showing symptoms. Rabies can infect any warm-blooded animal, and it can take weeks or months for symptoms to show up after an animal has been exposed to the virus.
- The wild animals that most commonly carry rabies in the U.S. are raccoons, bats, foxes and skunks. Also, woodchucks are known to carry rabies.
- The eastern U.S., including North Carolina, and the American Southwest have the highest incidences of rabies in the country.
- Animals with the rabies virus transmit the disease primarily through bites and scratches. Only an animal that is showing symptoms of rabies can transmit the virus.
Rabies is scary, to be sure, especially because once a beloved animal companion is infected with the virus, there is no cure. Exposed animals are subject to lengthy quarantine periods so that the disease does not spread. If an unvaccinated pet bites someone, it is up to Animal Control to determine if quarantine (at the owner’s expense) is applicable or if the pet has to be humanely euthanzied, depending on the situation. So it’s definitely better and far less expensive emotionally and financially to be safe than sorry in these situations.
Here are the top ways you can reduce your pet’s rabies risk factors:
- Keep your pet’s rabies vaccine up to date. All puppies and kittens should get the rabies immunization around 3-4 months of age and again at one year then every three years throughout their lifetime. If you have a pet that spends time outdoors, your veterinarian may also recommend a rabies booster to increase immunity.
- Supervise your pets and prevent contact with wildlife. Generally, if your pet is bitten or scratched by a wild animal that cannot be tested for rabies, public health officials will assume that your furbaby has been exposed to the rabies virus. To prevent this, make sure that your cats and dogs do not have contact with wild animals whenever possible.
- Seal your home so that rabid animals cannot get in – other critters love pet doors!
- Conduct a chimney and attic check yearly to ensure bats aren’t nesting in a crevice and can’t get access to the home. We often get calls about bats entering through the chimney and getting caught by the resident cat or dog, so even indoor pets can be at risk.
- Feed your furry friends indoors and wildlife-proof your trash. Outdoor food bowls and unsecured trash cans may attract rabid strays and wildlife, so it’s a good idea to keep potentially dangerous visitors to a minimum by eliminating any attractive food sources.
- Contact your vet right away if your dog or cat has been bitten or scratched by a wild animal or has a wound of unknown origin. In some circumstances, your veterinarian may recommend a rabies booster if your canine companion or feline friend is injured by a wild or unknown animal.
- If your pet bites or is bitten by another pet, contact your veterinarian right away.
- Do not approach animals that you do not know, do not feed stray animals, and avoid any animal that is behaving strangely. Animals with rabies may be overly friendly, aggressive, or display unnaturally fearless behavior.
Debunking Rabies Risk Misconceptions About Kitties
Although rabies is a serious risk for your canine companions, your feline friends also need to be vaccinated, especially as many cats in North Carolina are indoor/outdoor kitties who have an elevated rabies risk compared to cats who live inside.
In 2014, there were nearly 4 times as many cats infected with rabies than dogs, which underscores the importance of immunizing your kitty buddy for rabies. One of the things that increases a cat’s rabies risk is the reality of their solitary, slinky lifestyle: while it’s pretty easy to keep tabs on your dog, your cat is a natural predator who can vanish into your yard in the blink of an eye. So, as all cat owners know, supervising their outside time is very difficult to say the least, which is reason enough to keep your kitty up-to-date on his or her rabies immunization!