Devious and Deadly Disease – Is Your Pet Safe?

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There is a foreign invader that facilitates its entry into an animal’s system. Once inside, it travels up nerves to its victim’s brain as well as the salivary glands. The germ reproduces profusely in the salivary glands filling the animal’s saliva with millions of organisms. Meanwhile, the cunning intruder paralyses the animal’s throat muscles causing its mouth to overflow with infected saliva.

Simultaneously, in the brain, this wily virus causes the animal’s disposition to become violent and vicious. An otherwise docile pet may then start to attack and bite any person or animal he sees, facilitating entry of the virus into the next victims. Within days, the original host succumbs to a miserable death. But before that happens he may have fatally infected many other animals or people with his deadly bites.

This is the reality of rabies. Worldwide it is estimated that 60,000 people die from rabies each year, and bites from domestic dogs are the most common cause. It is a huge problem in developing countries, yet in the United States human cases are extremely rare.

It is not that rabies cases are uncommon in the US. In many states (such as Pennsylvania), rabies in wild animals is all too common. Our pets are often an unfortunate go-between for wild animals and people. While it sometimes happens that rabid, wild animals directly attack humans, imagine what would happen if our pets were not protected by vaccines. Pet rabies vaccines are the number one reason why human rabies cases happen much less frequently in the US versus underdeveloped countries.

Yes, although I am a staunch opponent of over-vaccination, I am in favor of keeping pets up to date on their rabies vaccines. Even pets who are kept strictly indoors can be exposed to rabies. I have had many cases over the years where indoor cats were found playing with bats. In one of those cases, the bat tested positive for rabies. Because the bite of a bat can be too tiny to notice, both the pet caregiver and the cat had to get rabies vaccines. It was fortunate that this cat had been up to date on its vaccines or her outcome would have been very bad.

October is rabies awareness month. Check to be sure your pet is up to date. Report any strange-acting, wild animals.

6 replies
  1. Jeri Howell
    Jeri Howell says:

    Dr. Doug,
    I have to disagree that titering is not better on this one. Rabies is one of the more “reactive” vaccines and, since the duration of immunity studies have shown (by both serology and challenge), that the vaccine lasts far longer than the arbitrary 3 year period, I think titers and waivers should be allowed. If titers are indicative of a positive immune response, and they are accepted for people and even for animals leaving the country for countries without rabies, why not accept them here as well? Dr. Schultz has made it very clear that a titer indicates a cell-mediated response as well, not detectable except by very expensive lab work, but nevertheless present. Furthermore, his Rabies Challenge promises to reveal some law-changing indicators. Rabies is a terrible disease, but we should not give our pets “mini” versions of it by vaccinating them for it far more than is needed. A titer can be an important indicator of this. Both our dogs have titered MANY TIMES OVER what is accepted for a person!! Continuing to inject them now would almost assuredly bring on an inflammatory response of some kind. I hope you will join those vets and grassroots movements who will be pushing for titers and waiver to become recognized as acceptable in lieu of continuing to vaccinate needlessly.

    • Dr. Doug
      Dr. Doug says:

      I actually agree with you 100% that a rabies titer proves protection and that the rabies vaccine most likely imparts longer immunity than stated. The problem is that the rabies vaccine is legally mandatory. The US government does not recognize the validity of rabies titers for pets. If a pet is not “up to date” on his rabies vaccine the owner can be fined no matter what the pet’s titer is. If a pet that is not up to date on his rabies vaccine gets bitten by a rabid animal, the health department will do their thing no matter what the pet’s rabies titer is. My point is simply a legal issue. Why bother doing a rabies titer if the government does not recognize it? It will make you feel better about not vaccinating but does not change the government response.

  2. Jeri Howell
    Jeri Howell says:

    Thanks for the reply, Dr. Doug. Actually in our area (Baton Rouge), titers are accepted and dogs can get tags and license with them. We did this year. Now, perhaps our dogs would have to go into quarantine if they bit someone or were bitten, but our dogs are under our control and have more chance of getting struck by lightning in their fenced in backyards in the few moments they’re out there than getting bitten or biting someone. We are protective of our animals and our vet was satisfied with the local animal control answer. I have heard of other areas like ours, so I know our area is not the only one doing this. I also know that un-vaccinated animals typically get quarantined for a week in our area. My parents manage a feral colony in their neighborhood, and took one of the ferals in for vaxxing. The vet clinic clearly knew nothing about handling ferals and a tech got scratched or bitten. The cat was put into quarantine and, of course my parents picked up his records with him at the end of the week and changed vets since the whole incident was entirely unnecessary. All of this to say, some of us don’t mind the quarantine if it means no unnecessary vaccinating since the odds are in our favor if we are pro-active and protective of our animals. From what I hear, those laws will get challenged as soon as the first results from the study come out in Spring 2015. I can’t wait!

    • Dr. Doug
      Dr. Doug says:

      Jeri – That is great that your area accepts rabies titers. Laws vary by state and sometimes even by county. I did not know any area accepted rabies titers. I agree 100% with what you are doing.

      Regarding quarantine – there are 2 scenarios: 1. an unvaccinated pet bites someone – the quarantine is 10 days (an animal dies within 10 days of being able to spread the virus). Case 2. an unvaccinated pet gets bitten by a wild animal. It could take months for the pet to develop rabies and some health departments will have the pet euthanized.

  3. Paula Winne
    Paula Winne says:

    Would love if you could explain the difference between a 1 year and 3 year rabies vaccine somewhere on your blog. We were having a discussion and it seems everyone has a different understanding of what the difference is. I thought they were actually the same, but the vet only issued the certificate for the length of time that was in accordance with the laws in the area where the animal resided.


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