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Why Do Dogs Need the Rabies Vaccine?

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    We’ve all heard about the rabies vaccine, but do you know just how important it is for our dogs? This fatal virus is not common, but very scary. Dogs are able to get rabies when passed through a wild animal. That’s why it’s important to know your state’s legal requirements for the vaccine, the importance of the vaccine, and the signs of rabies. 

    What Exactly is Rabies?

    Rabies is a very serious infection of the brain and central nervous system. It’s most commonly found in wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, and bats. However, when it is rarely passed to domestic animals such as dogs, it is done so through a bite from an animal with the infection. The infectious virus particles exist in the saliva of the infected animal. Therefore passing along the infection through a bite. 

    If a dog is bitten, the virus passes into the dog’s body where it replicates in the cells of their muscles and the nerve fibers. This eventually travels to the central nervous system. It typically takes about 4 weeks for the virus to reach its full strength. Once symptoms of rabies are apparent, it spreads rapidly and death can occur as quickly as within 10 days. 

    Rabies Vaccines:

    Thanks to the rabies vaccine, rabies is 100% preventable! The vaccine protects not only your dog if he comes in contact with an infected animal, but also protects the other animals your dog comes in contact with as well as humans. Dogs and other domestic animals should first be vaccinated against rabies between 4 and 6 months of age. From there, booster shots will be administered one year from this date, and then in accordance with your local laws. Prevention through the vaccine is key, as there is no other way to prevent the seriously fatal disease. 

    Legal Requirements of Rabies Vaccines:

    The majority of states in the United States regulate the administration of rabies vaccinations to domestic animals including dogs. However, the frequency with which the vaccine should be administered varies from state to state. Some states may follow the guidance from the vaccine manufacturer. 

    Failure to follow your state law can result in a fine and even confiscation and euthanasia of your dog. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your state requirements for the rabies vaccinations. Contact your veterinarian or local animal control facility to learn about your state requirements and laws surrounding the rabies vaccine. It’s the best way to keep your pet, your family, and the community safe. 

    How Rabies Affects Your Dog

    Familiarize yourself with the signs of rabies in dogs, regardless of their vaccination status. The disease progresses in stages, beginning with a noticeable change in the affected dog’s temperament. As the virus continues to progress, the dog may become aggressive and display other bizarre behaviors. Unfortunately, the result of rabies in domestic animals is almost always death. 

    Many people assume that if they have an indoor-only pet, the vaccine isn’t necessary. However, this simply is not the case. For starters, it is the law. However, instances can occur such as wild animals like raccoons or bats entering homes through chimneys or air conditioning units. If your pet is exposed to a potential rabid animal and is overdue for the vaccination, your state will likely require a strict quarantine period. 

    Signs of Rabies:

    The incubation period varies when it comes to rabies. However, in domestic animals, it’s usually between 3-12 weeks. The most common signs of rabies include: 

    • Inappetence 
    • Difficulty swallowing 
    • Abnormal behavior 
    • Difficulty swallowing 
    • Loss of coordination 
    • Paralysis 
    • Seizures 

    Death tends to follow these signs rather quickly.

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    World Rabies Day: What is Rabies?

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      World Rabies Day takes place on September 28th as a global health observance that was started in 2007 by the CDC. It brings partners together to improve rabies prevention and control activities around the world. This day is observed in not just the U.S but many countries around the world, especially those that have a problem with rabies. World Rabies Day provides an opportunity to consider how rabies affects your community and those across the world. Rabies may still be found in animals in many regions of the United States and internationally. Dog bites suffered during overseas travel, however, account for about a fifth of recorded rabies cases in the United States.

      Photo Credit: The Saginaw News

      What is Rabies?

      Rabies is a disease in any creature including dogs and people, that affects the brain and spinal cord and is incurable. While rabies may be prevented and even treated if discovered early, once symptoms develop, the virus can be deadly.  

      How Do Dogs Contract Rabies?

      Rabies is a disease that is transferred via saliva and is most often transmitted from a bite wound. Another possible contraction is through an open wound that has been exposed to the virus by an infected animal and then the virus enters the bloodstream. The most common way that dogs get rabies is through exposure from an infected wild animal such as bats, foxes and racoons. Luckily, it’s not very common in dogs with only about 400 to 500 cases reported in domestic pets each year. This is due to the disease being preventable by the mandatory rabies vaccine. 

      What Are The Signs of Rabies in Dogs?

      When dogs are bitten by an animal, especially one that has an unknown rabies status like a wild animal or stray dog, it’s extremely important to watch for the signs of rabies and contact your vet immediately. Once a dog is exposed to rabies, the virus can be in their body for weeks until they start to show signs of infection. In most cases, it develops in dogs in about 20-81 days post-exposure but just like with any disease, it can vary per dog, and that incubation period could be either longer or shorter. As soon as a dog shows signs of rabies, it’s unfortunately too late to treat it.

      One of the first signs of rabies is a change in behavior. When dogs have rabies, they will usually start becoming restless, irritable and show signs of aggression. On the other hand, they may also start becoming extra affectionate. And if dogs are usually excited and happy, they might possibly become suddenly relaxed and disinterested in everything. Physical signs of rabies in dogs include trouble swallowing, staggering, excessive drooling, seizures, and even paralysis is possible. 

      When a dog is infected with rabies, the disease continuously progresses, and quite quickly, and the symptoms will change over time. They may start acting overstimulated to lights, sound, and movement which may cause them to seek out dark, quiet places to getaway.

      It’s important to note that while foaming at the mouth rabies is a commonly recognized sign, not all dogs present this symptom. Instead of foaming, they may be present by excessive drooling and saliva. Unfortunately, this sign is a sign that the disease has progressed and is on the verge of the final stages. During the final stages of rabies, there are more chances of seizures and paralysis. Dogs usually can’t control their muscles, including those in their head and throat, and eventually makes breathing impossible, therefore leading to death. 

      How is Rabies Diagnosed in Dogs?

      One of the most unfortunate parts about rabies is that it’s extremely difficult to diagnose in living beings. It can’t really be diagnosed by a blood test. The only way to be 100% sure of rabies diagnoses is via brain tissue biopsy which is only possible once the infected animal has died. 

      How is Rabies Treated in Dogs?

      Unfortunately, once dogs show signs of rabies, it is not treatable. Vets will often recommend euthanasia to avoid spreading the virus. A booster shot of the rabies vaccine should be given if a dog is bitten by a wild animal to lessen that chance of contracting rabies.

      How is Rabies Prevented?

      First off, the #1 form of rabies prevention is through the rabies vaccination which is usually required by cities and states. It’s also usually required by businesses like dog daycares and groomers. If a dog is bit by another dog, it’s important to get their vaccination records from the owner (unless it’s a stray dog). Keep in mind that if your dog bites a human or another dog/animal, and you do not have up-to-date rabies vaccines, the dog may be either quarantine or even euthanized due to the possible threat they may carry. Usually, when a human has been bitten by a dog, the dog is often put in quarantine for 10 days to see if rabies develops. 

      Wild animals may carry rabies as well. If you live in an area with many wild animals, be sure to keep your dog on a leash when out and be aware of your surroundings. Keeping your dog on a leash is the best way to keep them away from possible infected animals. 

      Some countries have started vaccinating stray dogs in an effort to eradicate rabies. When 70% of dogs in a given area have been vaccinated against rabies, it has been shown to eliminate rabies in both human and canine populations. In sub-Saharan Africa, where the vast majority of dogs are owned, efforts are being made to have the majority of owned dogs vaccinated. 

      According to the National Health Portal, Rabies continues to be a problem in India and it accounts for 36% of all rabies deaths globally, reporting approximately 20,000 cases a year. This is is why India held their first Rabies Awareness Summit on World Rabies Day in 2020, in an effort to demand the government take drastic, persistent steps to eradicate rabies specifically by dog bites in India. The World Health Organization wants to completely eradicate rabies by 2030 and so at the summit, experts advised the Indian government to make rabies a “notifiable disease” (required by law to be reported to government authorities to foster accurate record-keeping). 

      Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS), a United Kingdom-based charity group started Mission Rabies, is boots on the ground in India to try and help eliminate rabies. They were founded in 2013 with a goal to vaccinate 50,000 dogs against rabies across India. Since then, they have vaccinated almost 1 million dogs!

      Photo Credit: Mission Rabies

      What if You See an Animal With Rabies?

      If you happen to come across a wild animal that is presenting signs of rabies, make sure to contact your local animal control or health department. Do not approach the animal or try to capture it yourself as you may be bitten and therefore infection. Make sure to warn others in the neighborhood as well.

      What Do You Do If Your Dog Has Been in Contact with Potentially Rabid Animal?

      If your dog has come in contact with a possibly infected animal, especially one like a wild animal or stray dog who wouldn’t have vaccines, contact your veterinarian immediately. They will usually give the dog a booster shot and clean the wound in an effort to prevent infection. The next step is to also contact the health department so the infected animal can be removed. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CLEAN THE WOUND YOURSELF WITHOUT DISPOSABLE GLOVES AS YOU CAN STILL BECOME INFECTED.