The very best thing you can do to protect your dog or cat from rabies is to vaccinate your pet and keep the rabies vaccination up-to-date. Rabies vaccines are quite effective and vaccinated animals rarely contract rabies. As a result, vaccinated pets that are exposed to rabies are treated much differently than unvaccinated pets.
How Do Dogs and Cats Become Exposed to Rabies?
Wildlife is the most common means of exposure for most dogs and cats. The species of wildlife most commonly implicated in carrying rabies are the bat, skunk, raccoon and fox. Other animals, including other dogs and cats, can carry rabies as well and exposure may take place through contact with these animals too.
Bite wounds are the most common means of transmission of the rabies virus. However, infected saliva which contacts mucous membranes (such as the gums or eyes) can also cause infection as can contact of infected saliva with skin that has cuts or abrasions.
If your pet is bitten by another animal, washing the wound thoroughly and immediately is recommended. Wear gloves when doing so to protect yourself from exposure.
What Happens If My Dog or Cat Is Exposed to a Rabid Animal?
Most communities have laws that lay out the protocol to be followed for animals exposed to rabies or potentially exposed to rabies. Local public health officials and/or animal control personnel are usually involved in the seeing that proper protocols are carried out.
Several factors play a part in determining what will happen to your pet in this case. Your pet’s vaccination status will play a big role in determining the recommendations.
Protocols may vary somewhat from one location to the next and you should contact your local animal control or public health official to determine the requirements in your area.
- Generally, if your pet is bitten by another vaccinated pet, the risk of rabies exposure is low. In this case, nothing more than routine first aid may be required for your pet. If your dog or cat is unvaccinated however, it is likely that vaccination will be required.
- If your pet is vaccinated and is bitten or exposed to a rabid animal or an animal that is potentially rabid, a confinement period of 30-45 days will likely be necessary. Revaccination against rabies may be recommended or required as well. If a potentially rabid animal is involved and the animal’s body is available, health officials may be able to test the animal for rabies to determine whether true exposure has occurred.
- If your dog or cat is unvaccinated and is bitten or otherwise exposed to a rabid animal or an animal that is potentially rabid, euthanasia may be recommended. Again, if a potentially rabid animal is involved and the animal’s body is available, health officials may be able to test the animal for rabies to determine whether true exposure has occurred before this sentence is carried out. If you choose not to euthanize your pet, confinement for as long as six months may be required. This confinement may need to take place at an approved facility, such as your local animal control facility. During this time, you may not even be allowed to visit with your pet. Vaccination upon entering the confinement, before release, or both may be required as well.
- If your pet suffers a wound of unknown origin, such as a bite wound or abscess that is unexplained, rabies protocols may come into play as well. Particularly if your pet is unvaccinated, the wound may be considered a potential rabies exposure.
- In the event that your dog or cat suffers a wound of unknown origin or is exposed to a potentially rabid animal that is not available for testing, your local animal control officer or public health personnel will be required to make the necessary decisions. Factors such as the incidence of rabies in your locality, the likelihood of exposure, the overall health of your pet and your pet’s previous vaccination history may be taken into account when making these decisions.