Although rabies has been almost completely eradicated in the United States through a rigorous vaccination program and animal control, the disease can easily become a real threat again without proper prevention. Despite an intensive vaccination campaign, confusion remains about rabies, which can be fatal. The Southwest Vet team wants to clear up the misconceptions, so here are our answers to pet owners’ top 10 questions about rabies. 

Question #1: How is rabies transmitted?

Answer: The rabies virus is secreted in saliva, and is usually transmitted to people or animals when an infected animal bites. The disease can also be transmitted if the saliva from a rabid animal comes in contact with an open cut on the skin, or the eyes, nose, or mouth. 

Q #2: What is the most common cause of rabies in people?

A: Rabies remains a major concern worldwide, killing around 59,000 people annually. Almost all the deaths are caused by rabid dog bites in countries with inadequate canine vaccination programs. In the U.S., rabies vaccination and animal control programs, along with superior treatment for people who have been bitten, have dramatically reduced the number of human rabies cases. Most of the few human cases in this country have resulted from exposures to bats. If you see a bat in the wild, do not touch it, and ensure your pet does not investigate. Although few bats are infected, it is best to be safe. 

Q #3: What are rabies signs in pets?

A: Rabies affects the nervous system, and can create a variety of clinical signs, including:

  • Fearfulness
  • Aggression
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Staggering
  • Paralysis 
  • Seizures

Once clinical signs appear, rabies cannot be treated, and an infected pet will die.

Q #4: How can I ensure my pet is safe from rabies?

A: Ensure your pet’s protection by ensuring they stay on the appropriate rabies vaccination schedule. Avoid letting them wander, or approach wildlife or strange pets. Spaying or neutering your dog or cat will help reduce roaming tendencies, keeping them safer and healthier.

Q #5: What should I do if a suspected rabid animal bites my pet?

A: Each case is handled differently, depending on your pet’s vaccination status. If you notice your pet coming in contact with a bat, or odd-acting wild animal, contact your Southwest Vet veterinarian for assistance. Our team can guide you on the proper steps, such as quarantine, if necessary, and a rabies vaccination booster immediately.

Q #6: Can my pet be tested for rabies instead of being quarantined?

A: Unfortunately, no simple blood test for rabies is available. Instead, brain tissue samples are collected post-mortem, to accurately identify the rabies virus in the tissue. The only option to “test” a living pet for rabies is undergoing a 10-day quarantine period. A rabies-infected animal can only transmit the disease only after signs have developed. If they are capable of transmitting rabies to their bite victim, neurologic signs should become apparent in the biting animal within 10 days. The 10-day quarantine allows animal control to determine if the biting pet has rabies, and gives the bite victim time to seek post-exposure treatment.

Q #7: Can my pet develop rabies from vaccination?

A: No—all rabies vaccinations for pets—and people—are inactivated (i.e., killed) vaccines, meaning that the viral pathogen has been inactivated, but will still cause the immune system to mount an appropriate, defensive response. In addition, the rabies vaccine functions uniquely in your pet’s body. Like other inactivated vaccines, the initial rabies vaccine dose serves as the “priming” dose. If a pet is exposed to rabies, the exposure serves as the second, or immunizing, dose. Because rabies signs are slow to develop, the animal has adequate time to mount a protective immune response. For this reason, rabies infection in vaccinated dogs and cats, including those who have received only a single dose, is exceptionally rare.

Q #8: How often does my pet require a rabies vaccination?

A: Legally in Texas, your cat or dog must have a rabies vaccination every one or three years, depending on the product’s labeling. Your pet must have their initial one-year rabies vaccination as a puppy, kitten, or stray pet, and then be boostered in one year, to mount an appropriate immune system response.

Q #9: Can my pet undergo rabies titer testing in lieu of vaccination?

A: No—in Texas, a rabies antibody titer is not considered a legal index of immunity in lieu of revaccination. Titer testing is available for other vaccinations, such as canine distemper and parvovirus. 

Q #10: What is the best way to protect my pet and my family from rabies?

A: The best way to protect your entire family—two- and four-legged members—is to ensure your pet is appropriately vaccinated for rabies. Avoid letting their rabies vaccination lapse, to maintain adequate immune system response, and create an inhospitable habitat to prevent possums, raccoons, and other wild animals from camping out in your yard. Also, learn to read canine body language—since most human rabies cases are caused by dog bites, recognizing the warning signals that a dog is about to bite is crucial. Understanding canine body language is always a useful skill for protecting your family, whether or not a rabies risk is present. 

Is it time for your pet’s rabies vaccination booster? Don’t delay—give us a call to schedule your furry pal’s appointment, to keep your entire family safe from this deadly disease