If you own a cat or a dog, there is one vaccine that is required by state and local laws. That vaccine is the Rabies vaccine. There has been a lot of recent coverage in the news across Florida- and other parts of the country about Canine Influenza (see my recent blog about this virus here)- and now Rabies is making headlines in the local news here in Hillsborough County.
There have been three Rabies alerts issued in Hillsborough County in recent weeks, with the latest being issued on June 6th for residents of the zip code 33624. A cat was found with rabies- not a feral cat, but someone's pet. Sadly, this could have been easily prevented if the cat was vaccinated against this fatal disease. Although the infected cat was identified more than 10 miles from Tampa Veterinary Hospital, it's still too close for comfort.
What is Rabies?
Rabies is a virus that affects the central nervous system in mammals, and is most often fatal. It is also zoonotic, which means it can be spread from animals to humans. Rabies is almost always spread when an infected animal bites another animal or a human. If your pet is bitten by an infected animal (foxes, raccoons, skunks and bats are the most common culprits) they may not immediately show signs of infection. The incubation period for Rabies can be as little as a few days and up to a year or longer in rare cases. Incubation times are not completely understood, but are thought to be influenced by the severity of the bite, how close it is to the spine or brain, and how much virus was transmitted through saliva in the bite.
Symptoms of Rabies
Many people think of the phrase “foaming at the mouth” when they think of Rabies symptoms. Although excessive salivation- or frothing saliva is one potential symptom, it is not the only one. Here is a list of common symptoms of Rabies. Not all infected pets show all signs.
Open mouth/dropped jaw
Noticeable change in tone/pitch of bark
Lack of coordination
Constant irritability/changes in attitude and behavior
Excessive salivation (hypersalivation), or frothy saliva
What do I do if I suspect my pet may have rabies?
If you know your pet has been in a fight or has been bitten by another animal, and they begin showing any of the symptoms described, immediately call your veterinarian. If your pet is acting aggressively, and you are in jeopardy of being bitten DO NOT attempt to capture them and notify your local animal control to contain them.
Prevention is simple
Most veterinarians offer both a one-year and a three-year vaccine which is safe and effective for most pets. Although rare, some pets do have a negative reaction to the vaccine. In very rare cases, we can draw your pet's blood and send it to a lab to determine your pet's level of antibodies (a Rabies Titer test). However, the level of antibodies does not necessarily tell us whether your pet is fully protected. “Titering” as it is known as in the veterinary community is expensive, and should not be used as a replacement for your pet's vaccines. At Tampa Veterinary Hospital, we can protect your pet with either the one-year or three-year vaccine, as well as provide you with your Hillsborough County Rabies tag, which is required each year.
Of course, beyond the vaccine, we recommend limiting your pet's exposure to other risks, such as avoiding stray animals or allowing them to roam free in unfamiliar locations where their risk is heightened.