For any pet-owner who has seen the classic film “Old Yeller” the fear of rabies can seem very real. Watching how quickly one bite from a wild animal can derange and ruin the life of another is deeply sobering. Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system, and spreads from the saliva to or brain tissue of an infected creature. From the moment of contact (via bite from a rabid animal) the disease has a rather lengthy “incubation” period before any symptoms manifest, during which time the patient can receive treatments.

There are plenty of misconceptions about the disease, and much underplaying and overplaying just how significant the threat of rabies really is. Here is a summary of everything pet owners in America need to know about the rabies virus.

Facing the Facts About Rabies

  • The rabies vaccine is widely successful. This vaccine has almost entirely eradicated the disease from domestic cats and dogs. Since 2008 even the random outbreaks of rabies have decreased to low numbers, and though the virus is not fully diminished in the United States, there are very few cases of rabies in domestic pets. This is partially due to the laws requiring a rabies vaccine, and the longevity of how effective the drug is. Even a single dose of the rabies vaccine will protect an animal for up to 3 years. Follow-up booster doses simply strengthen and extend the potency of the vaccine.
  • How does the vaccine work? Rabies vaccines are no longer repeated shots in the stomach, rather they are given first a less painful injection (into the arm) of the human rabies immune globulin. After this first dose, the cat or dog is given several booster shots over a certain amount of time.
  • The #1 source of rabies? Wild animals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats are most likely to carry the virus. (Deer, groundhogs, and woodchucks have also been known to carry the disease.) Over 90% of rabies cases exist only in the wild, so the likelihood of an immunized domestic pet contracting the disease is very small.
  • Human rabies cases in the US are very rare. Over the last decade, there have only been an average of 2 cases of a human infection of rabies every year, and in most cases it was passed through a wild animal and not a domestic pet. It is very rare for a pet to spread the rabies virus to their human; the last occurrence of a cat spreading rabies to a person was over 40 years ago.
  • Rabies treatments for humans can be treated. Though animals that become rabid usually end up dying from the disease, recent preventative treatments for humans have proven to successfully cure them. If by chance a person contract rabies through the bite of a wild animal,   but they receive the post-exposure prophylaxis treatment BEFORE symptoms begun manifesting, they will definitely survive.