When is the Rabies vaccine given?
Dogs and cats are legally required to be current on the rabies vaccination in the state of Texas. The rabies vaccine needs to be given to puppies and kittens between 12 and 16 weeks of age. The feline vaccination is then given annually. The canine vaccination is repeated within one year after the puppy vaccination, then given every three years.
What is Rabies?
Rabies is viral zoonotic disease which causes a fatal infection of the brain. Zoonotic means it is able to be spread between species. It causes an estimated 55,000 human deaths per year worldwide. Over half of these deaths are children. These deaths are mostly in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East with the majority of infections coming from dog bites. Any mammal may get the virus but the most common wild animal carriers in central and south Texas are skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes. To see confirmed cases of rabies in Texas this year, click here.
How is a person or pet infected with Rabies?
The virus is transmitted by the saliva of an infected animal. A bite wound is the most common way an infection is passed. It may also be transmitted by saliva contact with an open wound or mucous membranes (mouth, nose and eyes). When an animal is infected, there is an incubation period of days to months where the virus travels the nervous system until it eventually reaches the brain and salivary glands. During the incubation period, there are no symptoms of Rabies. Only when it reaches the brain, will there be neurologic symptoms which may or may not include hypersalivation, giving the “foaming at the mouth appearance”.
What happens when a person or pet is “infected” with Rabies?
Once the virus has finished the incubation phase and moved into the brain, there is no treatment for rabies. At this point, the virus is 100% fatal. This is why prevention through vaccinations is so vitally important as well as understanding when there may have been an exposure to the virus. People need to report all bite wounds to their physician to discuss medical attention as well as determine if post-exposure treatment for rabies is needed. When applicable, veterinary records of the animal should be sought to determine vaccination status. If your pet is bitten by an animal, we want to examine and treat the wound as well as give guidance in any rabies related matters.
Is there a test for Rabies?
There is no test that can be done on a living animal to see if the virus is present. The only test for rabies is a post-mortem examination of brain tissue. In Texas, this is done at one of the state pathology laboratories.
How do I protect people and pets from Rabies?
Keep pets up to date on the rabies vaccine. Be wary of nocturnal animals which are out and about during the daytime (ie. raccoons, skunks, bats) and report these animals to animal control. Never interact with animals of unknown vaccination histories or feral animals. If you are bitten, scratched, or come into contact with the saliva one of these animals, contact your physician as soon as possible.
Misconceptions about Rabies
Contrary to popular belief, animals which transmit Rabies can appear perfectly healthy at the time a bite is inflicted. Also a bite does not have to be “severe” to transmit the virus. It only has to break the skin.