Vaccine Highlight: Rabies

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“Rabies is one of the most devastating viral diseases affecting mammals, including dogs and humans. The danger of a bite from a rabid dog was described in writings dated from the 23rd century BC. The disease is usually transmitted by the bite of an infected animal. Rabies occurs in every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Most countries are affected, with the exception of a few island countries.

The infection is transmitted when one infected animal bites another. In Europe, foxes are the main reservoir while in North America the skunk, fox, raccoon and bat are important sources of infection.

Following a bite from a rabid animal, the disease progresses in stages. In the first or prodromal phase the dog undergoes a marked change in temperament. Quiet dogs become agitated and active pets become nervous or shy.

Following this stage, there are two recognized forms of the clinical disease:

Furious rabies occurs when the rabid dog becomes highly excitable and displays evidence of a depraved appetite, eating and chewing stones, earth and rubbish (pica). Paralysis eventually sets in and the rabid animal may be unable to eat and drink. Hydrophobia (fear of water) is not a sign of rabies in dogs. This is a feature of human rabies. The dog finally dies in a violent seizure.

Dumb rabies is the more common form in dogs. There is progressive paralysis involving the limbs, distortion of the face and a similar difficulty in swallowing. Owners will frequently think the dog has something stuck in the mouth or throat. Care should be taken in examination since rabies may be transmitted by saliva. Ultimately the dog becomes comatose and dies.

Vaccination promotes the production of antibodies but is only effective if given before the virus enters the nervous system. Modern rabies vaccines for dogs, cats, horses and ferrets are extremely safe and effective.

There is no treatment for a dog with rabies. If rabies is suspected, the dog has to be kept in isolation and prevented from escaping or injuring someone. Your veterinarian is required by law to notify the local and state or provincial animal disease regulatory authorities. These authorities will determine the steps necessary to properly protect the public.

The disease is zoonotic or can be transmitted from an animal to man. It is only transmitted by the bite of a rabid animal. The virus is present in the saliva of the infected animal only for a limited time.” – VCA Hospitals

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