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What You Should Know About Rabies

By Thomas C. Jones, DVM

Rabies is a serious threat to public health, yet many pet owners do not have their pets vaccinated against the disease.  Rabies is a deadly disease and can be transmitted by infected pets to family members.  The relatively small investment in a vaccine will protect your pet and your family from this disease.

Rabies is one of the earliest diseases to be recorded and described, no doubt due to the terrifying symptoms exhibited by animals in the aggressive phase of the disease.  Aristotle describe rabies in dogs in 340 B.C., but did not consider the diesases to be transmissible to humans.  

Rabies is a disease of the nervous system and it can infect all mammals.  While the major reservoir of the disease is in wild animals, it passes readily from wild to companion animals.  The disease is most commonly transmitted from animals to humans through bite wounds infected with contaminated saliva.

The symptoms of rabies can be quite variable depending upon the stage of the disease and the species of animal infected.  Some of the more common signs of the disease are behavior changes like lethargy or aggression, appetite loss, salivation, lack of coordination, seizures and paralysis.  The degree of species susceptibility to rabies varies considerably.  Foxes, skunks, raccoons, bats and rabbits are all highly susceptible and are common in our area.  While dogs are intermediate in susceptibility to rabies infection, they remain the world's primary host of the diesase and the most likely vehicle for transmission to humans.  Cats are highly susceptible to rabies and horses are moderately susceptible.  Raccoons are the most significant reservoir of rabies in the EAstern United States.

The possiblility for cats and dogs to come in contact with rabid wild animals increases as urban populations spread further in to the countryside.  Even pets penned, tied or confined to the house can be exposed to potentially rabid wildlife by escaping or by wild animals gaining entry to areas where pets are housed.  The typical curiousity level of domestic animals increases the odds of contact, and the nocturnal habits of cats and wildlife create even more opporutnities for these animals to encounter each other.

Following some commonsense guidelines can minimize the risk of exposure to rabies.  Keep your dogs and cats vaccinated against rabies as required by law.  Obey local leash laws.  Avoid leaving food outdoors where it may attract wildlife, and refrain from inviting wild animals into your yard by offering food.  Keep trash receptacles sealed tightly so as not to attract scavenging animals, and minimize direct contact with stray animals.

If your pet should appear ill or is suspected to have had contact with a wild or stray animal, immediately contact your veterinarian.  In the even of possible human exposure, do not delay in contacting your physician.  Immediate treatment is of the utmost importance.

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  • "I have been with Dr. Jones for 15 or more years. He has now cared for four of my dogs with the kindest most loving manner of any veterinarian in the area. I highly recommend him and his practice to anyone with a pet."
    L.B.N. / Ashburn, VA

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