Understanding and Preventing Rabies

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a virus passed through saliva between mammals. It can be contracted three different ways: being bitten by a rabid animal, getting infected saliva into an open cut/sore/wound, and finally, getting infected saliva in your mouth/eyes/nose. The complication with rabies is that by the time an animal or human shows any symptoms of rabies, it’s usually fatal. If you are ever bitten by wildlife or an unvaccinated pet, post-exposure vaccines are recommended. The most commonly infected animals in Ontario are bats, foxes, skunks, and raccoons. Bats are a major concern as they tend to get inside people’s houses. THIS IS WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TO KEEP EVEN INDOOR CATS RABIES VACCINE UP TO DATE.

Rabies manifests itself in two different forms. “Furious” rabies, which is what most people imagine, thanks to Hollywood (i.e. Old Yeller). These animals may react aggressively for no apparent reason. They have also been known to gnaw at their own limbs and go back and forth from states of depression and lethargy to agitated and aggressive. “Dumb” rabies is used to describe when the symptoms are not aggressive in nature. These animals tend to lose their fear of humans, may find themselves trapped in a corner, and may also become partially paralyzed.

It is in your best interest to avoid any wildlife that is injured or acting strangely. Even deceased animals can still have the active virus. If you suspect an issue, report it to your local Animal Control Agency.

What do I do if I have been bitten?

  1. Clean wound as best as you possibly can;
  2. Head to your local clinic/hospital ASAP;
  3. Contact your Public Health Unit.

Rabies symptoms in humans take between 2-8 weeks, post-exposure, to show up. Also, usually by the time a person is symptomatic, it is fatal. Symptoms vary depending on what strain a person has contracted. They range from the early symptoms of fever and headache to the later stages: muscle spasms, numbness at bite site (even after it’s healed), fear of water and difficulty breathing.

What does this mean for my pets?

Did you know that it is a LEGAL requirement in Ontario that every dog, cat, and ferret be vaccinated against Rabies? It’s also not recommended to allow your pets to interact with wildlife – supervise outdoor time. If a wild animal happens to get into your home, secure your pets, exit the house and contact Animal Control.

What are we doing about it?

Rabies is on the rise in Ontario. The MNR Ontario are “baiting” wildlife in areas where there has been an increase in positive Rabies cases. The bait is a flavoured packet containing an oral Rabies vaccine. Generally, they are airdropped from a plane, but in urban areas, they may also be hand distributed. They are small army green/yellow coloured packets with the MNR’s number, Government of Ontario logo and “Rabies Vaccine – Do not eat”. Should your dog accidentally eat an oral vaccine, it may develop an upset stomach. If your pet were to ingest multiple vaccines, it’s recommended to seek veterinary attention. Note: These oral vaccines are not an effective form of protection for pets.

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Written by Caitlin Johnston, RVT