Clinic Stories

Rabies

In the US, dogs and cats are required to be vaccinated for rabies. Many people grumble, claim that it is unnecessary, ask us to fill out a form exempting their pet or just don't vaccinate. Although human rabies deaths are uncommon in the US, about 40,000 receive rabies treatment in the US and worldwide at least 25,000 people a year die from rabies. In 2011 there were 70,000 deaths. By contrast, the 2014 Ebola outbreak killed 6400 people.

I know of cases where people went to jail for not vaccinating their pet. Sounds crazy, right? Here's how it happens. Animal Control finds out that a dog is not up to date on rabies vaccine, usually because the dog is roaming the neighborhood. They issue a citation and a deadline to get a vaccination. It and several other citations are ignored and finally the dog owner is ordered to appear in court. They don't show and a bench warrant is issued. One day the pet owner is pulled over for a traffic offense, records show that they have an outstanding warrant and off to jail they go for not vaccinating their dog.

To those who think that rabies is not in our area, consider this. We do a lot of work with Animal Control and with wildlife. Checking for rabies requires that the head is removed for testing. Few vets will do decapitations on rabies suspects either because they think it is unsavory or they fear getting rabies. Since we will do decaps we see rabies suspects on a regular basis. Animals that have not bitten someone are not tested, they are just euthanized. I see five or more confirmed cases of rabies a year and likely see several times more than that of unconfirmed cases.

Your cat never goes out so it doesn't need rabies vaccine, you say. I have had several cases of rabid animals in the house including two rabid bats in the same house in the same week and a rabid cat that clawed through a screen and came in. And even indoor cats sometimes make their way outside when a door is left open.

A dead raccoon was brought to the office in a reusable grocery bag. It tested positive for rabies yet I washed the grocery bag and continue to use it to this day. My kids make fun of me for this.

We see rabies most commonly in raccoons, cats are second. The first confirmed rabies case I saw was in a dairy cow bitten by a bat. We had a sick raccoon brought in with no history of biting but was a possible rabies case. I kept him in isolation for a few days to watch his development not allowing anyone else to touch him. He was seizuring and had not eaten in several days, so I drew up euthanasia solution. When I came back he was eating, improved from that point and was eventually released. He did not have rabies as it is universally fatal once signs develop.

It is speculated that Edgar Allen Poe died of rabies due to his clinical signs and because he kept many cats.

Animals showing signs of rabies can be painful to watch. They are mostly lethargic but can go into fits of manic aggression even biting themselves. I have seen enough rabid animals to lack sympathy for people who think that their pets do not need to be vaccinated. Please keep your pet current on rabies vaccination.

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