North Haven, CT (September 10, 2018) World Rabies Day is September 28, according to the World Health Organization. The Animal Haven in North Haven would like all pet owners to know that rabies is alive and well in Connecticut as well as other states in the Northeast. In fact, according to Animal Haven board member Arnie Cary, DVM, “in the first six months of 2018, there have been 13 cases of rabies in animals in Connecticut, including three in cats. Three of the state’s total were in New Haven county (one in Hamden). Dr. Cary says that only cases involving actual human exposure are tested at the state lab, leaving uncounted many cases of animals who are euthanized by police and animal control officers because of erratic behavior or who die naturally from the disease.
Rabies is a fatal disease for both animals and humans, so protecting yourself and your pet by properly vaccinating your pet against it is important. Besides, it’s the law. A Connecticut statute mandates that all cats and dogs over the age of three months must be vaccinated against rabies. Indoor cats are not exempt. Small dogs “who never go outside” are not exempt either.
Most of the cases seen are in wild animals such as foxes, skunks, raccoons, coyotes, and bats. However, in recent years, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats have become the most common domestic animal affected. This is because many owners don’t vaccinate their cats, and the cats can be exposed to rabid wildlife either outdoors or when bats get into the house.
What exactly is rabies?
Rabies is a viral disease that occurs only in mammals, and not birds, reptiles, or amphibians. It spreads from animal to animal, or animal to people, in saliva, usually from a bite which breaks the skin and allows the virus to enter. When a rabid animal bites an unvaccinated animal or person, the virus enters the wound, but rather than entering the blood stream, it travels to the peripheral nerve tracts around the wound, slowly making its way to the spinal cord and eventually the brain (and simultaneously to the salivary glands). When it enters the brain, it causes inflammation (encephalitis) resulting in those “classic” symptoms we often associate with rabid animals: aggression, fearfulness, restlessness, drooling, weakness, and paralysis. As the virus travels in the nerve tracts, the disease is incubating. A wound in a rear limb – a long distance for the virus to travel in the nerve – may take four to six months to incubate. A wound in the face or neck area, however, will be a shorter journey, taking only several weeks or a month to reach the brain and salivary glands. Once it does, and symptoms start, the encephalitis is fatal within 10-14 days. The virus can only be passed to others a few days before symptoms start and during the 10-14 day period of symptoms that precede death.
What happens if your animal bites someone?
If your dog or cat bites someone, your town’s animal control officer may want to quarantine the animal for 14 days, to watch for symptoms of rabies. If no symptoms appear, a rabies diagnosis is eliminated. State law also mandates that the owner of a pet which is about to be euthanized must certify that the animal has not bitten anyone within the previous 14 days. If your vaccinated pet is bitten by a known or suspected rabid animal, a rabies booster is recommended immediately. If your pet has not been vaccinated, and has been bitten by a known rabid animal, or has a bite wound of unknown origin, the recommendation is to quarantine or isolate him/her for six months. If you are bitten by a known or suspected rabid animal, check with your physician immediately. They will most likely recommend an extensive rabies treatment protocol.
“Please have your cats and dogs vaccinated for rabies according to the recommendation of your veterinarian,” says Dr. Cary. “After a one-year initial vaccination, most animals can be vaccinated every three years, but check this timing with your veterinarian. And be assured that your adopted pet from The Animal Haven will be vaccinated for rabies. Then, please keep him/her up to date."