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Veterinary Viewpoints: World Rabies Day

Monday, September 22, 2014

World Rabies Day is Sept. 28, 2014. Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. 

The virus is secreted in saliva and the disease is usually transmitted to people and animals by a bite from an infected animal. Rabies can also be transmitted when saliva from a rabid animal comes in contact with the membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth of a person or animal or an open cut on the skin.  

Only mammals can get rabies; birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians do not. Most cases of rabies occur in wild animals — mainly skunks, raccoons, bats, coyotes and foxes.

In recent years, cats have become the most common domestic animal infected with rabies. This is because many cat owners do not vaccinate their cats. Even indoor cats can be exposed by bats entering the house. 

Rabies also occurs in dogs and, while not as common, has been diagnosed in horses, goats, sheep, swine, cattle and ferrets.

Rabies vaccination and animal control programs, along with better treatment for people who have been bitten, have dramatically reduced the number of human cases of rabies in the United States. Most of the relatively few, recent human cases in this country have resulted from exposures to bats.

Here are some ways you can help control rabies:

Have your veterinarian vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and select horses and livestock. Your veterinarian will advise you on the recommended or required frequency of vaccination in your area.

Reduce the possibility of exposure to rabies — do not let your pets roam free. Keep cats and ferrets indoors and supervise dogs when they are outside. Spay or neuter your pet to decrease roaming tendencies and prevent the birth of unwanted animals.

Should your pet roam, when it returns, do not handle it with bare hands. Your pet may have had contact with a wild animal and that animal’s saliva may still be present on your pet’s fur. By handling your pet, you may be exposed to rabies.  

Don’t leave exposed garbage or pet food outside as it may attract wild or stray animals.

Never keep wild animals as pets. This may be illegal and wild animals pose a potential rabies threat to caretakers and others.

Observe all wild animals from a safe distance. A rabid wild animal may appear tame but do not go near it. Teach children to NEVER handle unfamiliar animals even if they appear friendly.

If you see a wild animal acting strangely, report it to the city or county animal control department.

Bat-proof your home and other structures to prevent bats from nesting and having access to people.

For more information, visit

Story by Elisabeth J. Giedt, DVM

Veterinary Viewpoints is provided by the faculty of the OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital.  Certified by the American Animal Hospital Association, the hospital is open to the public providing routine and specialized care for all species and 24-hour emergency care, 365 days a year.

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