Animal Advocate: Rabies

Jennifer Clarke
By Jennifer Clarke March 15, 2009 17:08

Not everyone is aware that the state of California is a declared rabies area. Rabies is a virus that attacks the central nervous system and, once symptomatic, it is almost always fatal. The virus is endemic in the skunk and bat populations, but every mammal is at risk, including humans. This is why it is so important to keep your pets up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.

State law requires that dogs be vaccinated and licensed, but don’t forget about your cat, who is actually more likely to encounter wildlife if allowed to wander. It is safest to keep pets inside. Never feed pets outdoors, as the food attracts skunks, raccoons and other wildlife, increasing the risk of exposure.

Rabies is most commonly transmitted by a bite or scratch, or contamination of mucous membrane, as in the eye or mouth. If your pet tangles with a known or suspected rabid animal, or gets exposed to their saliva, he or she will need to be quarantined.

The good news is that if your pet has a current rabies vaccination, and a booster shot is given within 48 hours, the quarantine lasts for 30 days. If your pet does not have a current vaccination, or does not receive the booster, the quarantine is for six months! In a typical year, Animal Control confirms two or three cases of rabid animals, usually skunks or bats. But since the lab will only test if there’s a known exposure, there are realistically more rabid animals out there that we are unable to confirm.

If you are bitten by an animal, clean the wound thoroughly and seek medical attention if necessary. Always consult with a doctor for cat bites to the hand, as the bacteria that live in cats’ mouths frequently cause infections. Animal Control often learns about a cat bite a few days after it happens because the patient ends up in the hospital.

Animal Control should be notified of all potential rabies exposure, either by the medical provider or the victim. Per state law, every dog or cat that bites someone must be quarantined for 10 days. Studies have shown that if a dog or cat is infective (the rabies virus is in its saliva), it will show clinical signs of rabies within five days; the state likes to play it safe and observe them for 10 days.

Clinical signs typically include change in behavior; neurological symptoms such as convulsions, spinning, bumping into things; and ultimately, paralysis. The animal usually dies from respiratory paralysis, first losing the ability to swallow, then to breathe.

The state makes an exception on quarantine periods if the dog or cat can be held at a veterinary office: There, it must be observed for five days in a row and examined by a licensed vet each day. Dogs lacking a current rabies vaccination must be quarantined at a veterinarian’s office or at Animal Control – home quarantine is not permitted. All other domestic animals must be quarantined for 14 days. Wild animals must be euthanized and have their brains tested for rabies.

Rabies is preventable – but only if pets are kept vaccinated. Animal Control and the Tuolumne County Veterinary Association will sponsor low-cost rabies clinics starting in May. Contact our office at 694-2730 to get the dates.

Jennifer Clarke is the manager of Tuolumne County Animal Control, 10040 Victoria Way, Jamestown.

© 2009, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Jennifer Clarke
By Jennifer Clarke March 15, 2009 17:08
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