Today, rabies rarely results in human fatalities in the United States, but rabies does remain a potentially dangerous health problem. Each year, more than twenty thousand Americans have to undergo anti-rabies treatment as a result of exposure to "rabid" animals. While the incidence of rabies continues to decline in domestic animals , more than six thousand cases of animal rabies are confirmed every year in this country.
All warm blooded animals can transmit rabies. The majority of the animal rabies cases in the United States are found in wild animals. Rabies is most commonly found in skunks, raccoons, foxes, bats, coyotes, groundhogs, and domestic farm animals - including horses, cattle, goats, sheep, swine, or exotics such as ferrets. Among domestic pets, dogs and cats are the most commonly infected animals.
Pet owners should:
- Cooperate with community sponsored rabies control programs
- Understand the basic signs of rabies
- Know what to do if bitten by a pet, stray or wild animal
What is Rabies?
Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. The rabies virus is transmitted through the saliva of rabid animals and can be transmitted to humans or other animals by getting saliva from an infected animal in a bite or open wound, the eye , or mouth. Prompt and appropriate treatment , after being bitten and before the disease develops, can stop the infection and prevent the disease.
What if you have been bitten by an animal?
- Calm down and wash the wound out completely with soap and water.
- If possible, try to capture or confine the animal without touching it. Try to put the animal under a box or can. Call animal control to pick up the animal.
- If you cannot capture the animal, then try and get a complete description of the animal.
- If you have been bitten by a wild animal, then you should only try and capture it if you can do so safely. If you cannot capture a wild animal then it MUST be killed in order to prevent its escape. The animal should be killed in such a way as to prevent head injury since the brain is needed to test for rabies.
- Call your physician immediately. Explain how you were bitten and follow their advice.
- Report the bite to the local health department.
How to prevent rabies in your community
- Routinely vaccinate your dog or cat. Cats have become the most common domestic animal infected with rabies because many cats are not vaccinated and are exposed to wild animals while hunting. Safe and effective vaccines are available from your veterinarian. For maximum protection follow your veterinarians advice and observe your local rabies control regulations.
- Obey community leash and licensing laws.
- Report stray dogs to local animal control.
- DO NOT keep wild animals as pets. There are no rabies vaccines licensed or proven safe and effective for use on wild animals.
- Teach children to avoid animals they are unfamiliar with especially wild animals. This is especially true while camping or hiking.
- Report wild animals observed in daylight hours.
How to keep your pet healthy
The American Veterinarian Medical Association suggests that you consult your veterinarian if your pet shows any of the following signs of illness:
- Abnormal behavior such as sudden viciousness or lethargy.
- Abnormal discharge from the nose, eyes, or other body openings.
- Loss of appetite, marked weight gain or loss, or excessive water consumption.
- Abnormal lumps, limping, or difficulty getting up or lying down.
- Difficult, abnormal, or uncontrolled waste elimination.
- Excessive head shaking, scratching, licking or biting of any body part.
- Dandruff, loss of hair, opens sores, ragged or dull coat, foul breath or excessive tarter deposit on teeth.