What’s All The Fuss Around Rabies?

Rabies has been in the news lately and there has been a big fuss around racoons in the Hamilton area found to be infected with the Rabies virus. This has been a concern since the main reservoir or source of the rabies virus in Ontario has always been foxes and skunks.  The introduction of the “Raccoon Rabies” into Ontario brings a whole new threat to our pets.

Rabies virus infection has been on the decline over the past 30 years since the Ministry of Natural Resources has done and very good job with vaccinating foxes and skunks by hiding the vaccine in meat snacks or ‘baits’. This vaccination procedure has dramatically decreased the number of infected skunks and foxes and this has decreased the threat to our pets. With the emergence of Raccoon Rabies it will be even more important to ensure our pets are up-to-date with their vaccinations against Rabies.

Rabies vaccination is the law in Ontario. The Health Protection and Promotion Act states “Every owner or person having the care and custody of a cat or dog three months of age or over that is kept in a health unit listed in Column 1 of Table 1 shall ensure that the cat or dog is immunized against rabies” . The fines for not complying with this law can be steep and ultimate fine, as brought about by the disease itself, is the most onerous.

The rabies virus is usually passed from one animal to another by a bite. The virus is held in the saliva and when a bite occurs the virus containing saliva is injected under the skin. The virus then infiltrates a nerve close by and travels up that nerve into the spinal cord and eventually into the brain. Once in the brain it starts to destroy the brain while some of the virus settles in the salivary glands of the infected animal or person.  As the disease progresses it causes death. Always. There have been a handful of people who have survived Rabies virus infection and they are left in a vegetative state so, in essence dead.

Rabies infection is always fatal.

The big fuss around Raccoon Rabies is there are more racoons in cities and suburban areas and so the risk of exposure to pets and people is much higher than with the old skunk and fox rabies.

Rabies vaccinations for both animals and people are highly effective in preventing disease even when a pet or person is bitten.  The vaccinations for pets are very inexpensive. Having our pets vaccinated against rabies definitely protects our pets and more importantly, by vaccinating our pets against rabies we are protecting ourselves.

To protect the ones you love both two and four legged , vaccinate your pets against Rabies.

By:  Dr. David Kerr, DVM