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Does My Pet Really Need a Rabies Vaccine?

by Lorie Huston, DVM on September 5, 2014

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In short, the answer is yes, your pet needs to be vaccinated against rabies. Let’s talk about why.
Is a rabies vaccine really necessary for your pet?

Is a rabies vaccine really necessary for your pet?
Photo credit: DepositPhotos.com/alexraths

Let me a share a few local stories that involved animals infected with rabies. On several occasions, one of which occurred in the local community where I work, a rabid cat was found and the Department of Health asked anyone who may have come in contact with the cat to report to them and receive rabies prophylaxis (a course of injections to prevent infection) themselves.

On another occasion, a calf infected with rabies exposed several people, including a few children. The calf happened to be pastured near a popular ice cream parlor, which brought people from all over Rhode Island to the area. The pen/pasture where the calf was housed was accessible from the ice cream parlor and many people approached to pet the calf. When the calf died, it was discovered it had rabies. Again, a call by the Department of Health went out and several people, including the exposed children, had to undergo prophylaxis.

The fact is that infection is fatal. There is no cure for rabies, for pets or for people. The vast majority of infected people and animals die. That’s why rabies is so serious and why most communities, including mine, have laws mandating the vaccination of pets against rabies. In my community, the law requires that all dogs, cats, and ferrets be vaccinated. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean all pets are actually vaccinated. Some people simply aren’t responsible pet owners. Other times, the unvaccinated animal (including most of the cats that were discovered to be infected) are outdoor/stray/community animals that don’t have a true owner.

How serious is the threat of rabies? The statistics say it’s a real threat. Worldwide, more than 55,000 people die of rabies every year and nearly 40% of those who are bitten by rabid animals are children under 15 years of age. The good news is that the vaccine is 100% effective. This simple shot ensures the safety of your pet, and prevents the spread of the disease to other pets, wild animals and people – including young children.

According to Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian with the American Veterinary Medical Association, the prevalence of infection in cats has increased, “Rabies. Just the word conjures visions of Cujo, the Stephen King rabid St. Bernard, and death and denial. Though the prevalence of rabies in the United States in domestic pets has decreased dramatically over the past several decades, in part due to an aggressive vaccination program for dogs, the number of reported cases in cats has increased. Cats are not more susceptible to rabies but historically have not been required to be vaccinated for this preventable disease. Even indoor cats have contracted this potentially fatal virus.”

You can protect your pets and your family by talking to your veterinarian about vaccinating your dog and cat. According to Dr. Charles Rupprecht, chief of the rabies program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Your local veterinarian plays a key role in controlling rabies.”

Vaccinating your pet is one way that to help stop the spread of the disease. However, it is also important to be cautious around other animals. β€œDon’t handle wildlife. They are the primary reservoir for rabies,” added Dr. Cruz and always ask the owner’s permission before you pet a dog or cat. Sticking your hand in fences or reaching out to unknown animals is risky and the results could be devastating.

In preparation for this year’s World Rabies Day on September 28th, 2014 remember to keep yourself safe from wild animals and get your pet vaccinated. Learn more by visiting the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

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About Lorie Huston, DVM

Lorie Huston is an accomplished veterinarian, an award winning blogger, a talented author and a certified veterinary journalist. She is available for writing assignments, blogging and social media consultation, and SEO strategy.

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