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The Fatal Disease that’s Frighteningly Common in our Community, by Dr. Lee Pickett

Clients sometimes ask if anything frustrates me about my job. My answer of late is the number of people who seem unconcerned that their pets aren’t vaccinated for rabies and think it’s nothing to worry about. So today I’d like to dispel some misconceptions about this fatal disease that is all too common in our community. Myth: Rabies isn’t very common locally Fact: During 2011, 450 animals tested positive for rabies in Pennsylvania, putting us once again near the top of the national chart. Berks County reported four cats, three raccoons, three skunks and one fox with rabies. Myth: I vaccinate my dogs against rabies, but I don’t need to vaccinate my cats, because they’re just barn cats. Fact: Every year, Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of rabid cats. Barn cats are at greatest risk because they spend time outdoors. If one of your unvaccinated barn cats contracts rabies and scratches or bites your child, dog or horse and then disappears, you’ll never know until it’s too late. Myth: It will be obvious if one of my animals develops rabies, and I can then take the necessary steps. Fact: While the clinical signs are usually neurologic, they aren’t always. Moreover, animals can transmit rabies 13 days before they show any signs of illness.One of my colleagues treated and eventually euthanized an indoor-outdoor cat for kidney failure confirmed by lab work. The unvaccinated cat had scratched the owner while being helped into the carrier for the trip to the animal hospital, so the veterinarian recommended rabies testing. Good thing, because despite the lack of neurologic signs, the cat tested positive for rabies. Myth: Rabies is an animal disease, not a human disease, so I don’t need to be concerned. Fact: Throughout the world, one person dies of rabies every 10 minutes. While most victims live in Africa and Asia, three people in the U.S. contracted rabies in 2011. A New Jersey woman who succumbed was unaware of any exposure to animals. A New York man who died had been bitten by a dog while he served in the military in Afghanistan. The third victim was an 8-year-old California girl who was scratched by a free-roaming, probably unvaccinated cat that was never caught. Myth: None of my animals are vaccinated for rabies, and there’s no law that says they have to be. Fact: Pennsylvania law requires rabies vaccination for dogs and cats, whether indoor or indoor-outdoor, starting at three months of age. Vaccination must be repeated the following year and then every one to three years, depending on the vaccine used. Also, you are required to produce a current rabies certificate when an authority requests it. The fine for disobeying the rabies law can go as high as $300 per day. So if your pet is overdue for rabies vaccination, please call us today at 610-488-0166 to set up an appointment. Whether you call them pet vaccinations, cat shots or dog shots, it’s important to get them to prevent this deadly disease.