Is your pet vaccinated for rabies?

Two pet owners have called this week with concerns about potential rabies exposure with their pets. In both instances the pets were not current on their rabies vaccinations. One woman had a bat in her home and didn’t know if her cats may have come in contact with the bat. The other pet owner called because her two dogs had cornered a raccoon. Both owners were understandably worried that their dog and cat may have been exposed to a wild animal potentially carrying rabies.

Rabies is an almost always fatal neurologic disease transmitted by a virus carried in the saliva of infected animals. It is usually transmitted through bites wounds, although there have been rare cases of rabies transmission through other routes such as eyes, nose and mouth. Each year rabies still kills over 55,000 people worldwide. In the United States 40,000 people are treated with rabies prophylaxis annually.  Most of these cases are due to contact with wildlife and domestic animals.

Luckily for this dog, according to the Minnesota Department of Health website, rabies is not found in Minnesota raccoons at this time. In Minnesota, rabies is primarily found in skunks and bats. Most livestock and pets develop the disease following a bite from a rabid skunk. People on the other hand, are generally exposed to rabies by bats, livestock and unvaccinated pets. We often are asked about bites from other wild animals. Wild carnivores and large rodents such as muskrats, groundhogs, and beaver are of concern. Species that are not a rabies risk in Minnesota include mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, voles, and rabbits.

The cat owner was able to capture the bat and it was taken to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Lab for rabies testing. The cat was immediately brought in for vaccination.

Because of our large feral cat population, outside cats are also at higher risk of rabies. In August of 2010, an entire family in Washington County required rabies prophylaxis after exposure to a rabid cat.

Rabies is a largely preventable disease. Vaccinations are highly effective in protecting our pets from rabies. However, if a human or an animal develops rabies it is almost always fatal. If an animal is suspected of having rabies, testing is done on the brain tissue after the animal is euthanized.  There is no test for rabies in live animals.

One of the best ways to protect your family from rabies is to vaccinate your pets and avoid contact with wild animals.  (see Protecting you and your family)

Both pet owners who called today to ask about her pet’s vaccinations took the right step. If you or your pet is exposed by being bitten, scratched or otherwise had direct contact with the saliva of any wild animal, including feral cats, it is imperative to contact your doctor or veterinarian.

The only treatment for rabies is to administer the immunoglobulin before the person comes down with the illness. Euthanasia is recommended for unvaccinated pets bitten by rabid animals.  Clinical signs of rabies generally occur within 10 days of being bitten.  Strict 6 month quarantine are otherwise required. Vaccinated pets are given a rabies vaccine booster and then monitored by the owner for 45 days for signs of illness. Pets with expired vaccination are evaluated on a case by case basis.

It is clear to me that all of us need to to be aware of the threat of this dangerous disease and keep our pets rabies vaccinations up to date. Is your pet current on its rabies vaccinations? Contact your veterinarian today to find out.

For more information on Rabies in Minnesota and the rest of the country you can visit the following websites:


Dr. Ginger GarlieDr. Ginger Garlie