World Rabies Day Reflects Need for Rabies Awareness

However, the risk for human exposure to rabies is not limited to dogs. Looking at rabies statistics for 2012, 257 cats in the United States were confirmed to have rabies. In fact, in the United States, confirmed cases of rabies in cats have far exceeded the number of cases in dogs every year since 1986. Even though the number of cases is low, the risk is still real and significant.

Immunization Requirements

In most states, rabies vaccination of pet dogs, cats and even ferrets is required by law. In Canada, the only province requiring rabies vaccination of pets is Ontario. However, the fact that an individual state (or province) has a law requiring pets to be vaccinated is no guarantee that pets will actually receive their shots.

In fact, owner compliance with rabies vaccination requirements for pet dogs and cats is modest at best. It has been estimated that rabies vaccination compliance is less than 30 percent, even among dogs living in areas where the risk of a pet having contact with infected wildlife is high. Yet, the actual number of cats receiving required rabies vaccinations is significantly less than for dogs.

What makes these numbers especially striking is the fact that, realistically, many more dogs and cats are infected with rabies each year than are reflected in annual statistics. It’s simply not possible to capture and confirm all of the cases that occur. That’s why it is so important that all pets be vaccinated against rabies.

Rabies vaccination requirements vary from state to state. And, in some states, individual municipalities may impose vaccination laws that are stricter than those stipulated by the state.

In states and municipalities (cities or counties) where rabies vaccination is required, it is the pet owner’s responsibility to comply with rabies laws and ensure a pet is vaccinated at the appropriate age and interval, and it is the veterinarian’s responsibility to ensure that rabies vaccines are administered in accordance with laws or ordinances.

National vaccination guidelines for dogs and cats strongly recommend that all cats and all dogs be immunized against rabies, even in cities/states that do not stipulate a vaccination requirement.

Preventing Exposure

It is true that the risk that you or someone in your family will be exposed to rabies is small, but it can happen, and when it does, the consequences can be serious.

Ensuring that pets are regularly vaccinated is not an option: It’s a fundamental responsibility if you are providing for the care of a dog or cat (or ferret). But preventing infection is not just about vaccination. There are some important precautions that can significantly reduce an individual pet’s risk of being exposed to rabies:

  • If your dog or cat spends time outside, don't leave pet food outdoors for extended periods, especially overnight. Doing so attracts the kinds of wild animals who carry rabies and can transmit the virus to pets (and people).
  • Supervise pets while they are outdoors. Strictly avoid contact with stray dogs and cats and especially with wildlife (such as raccoons, foxes, and bats).
  • Notify animal control if a stray dog or cat frequents the area around your home.

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