Rabies is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be transmitted from animals to humans. Rabies is caused by a virus that is transmitted via the saliva of infected mammals, through open wounds, mucous membranes or bites. It affects the brain and nervous system of mammals, and if not treated quickly, it is often fatal. Signs of rabies include fever, headache, weakness, paralysis, seizures, difficulty breathing, difficulty eating/drinking/swallowing, excessive salivation, change in vocalizations, and behavioural changes (aggressive, quiet/depressed, unusually friendly).
Although historically few cases of rabies have been seen in Canada, a rise in raccoon and fox strains in Ontario has led to >480 confirmed incidents since December 2015. In Canada, the virus has tested positive in bats, raccoons, cats, dogs, cows, foxes, skunks and even a llama. Worldwide there are roughly 55,000 cases of human rabies per year with the most frequent cause being dog bites.
Prevention in our family pets is the key! At Barriefield Animal Hospital, we use two types of Rabies vaccines. In dogs, we typically vaccinate puppies at their final booster around 16 weeks. The first vaccine is good for one year. If they get the booster shot before that year is over the next rabies vaccines are due every three years. In cats, we typically use a different vaccine. It is specifically made for cats to help prevent injection site reactions and is required annually. As well as keeping your pets up to date on vaccines, spaying/neutering helps prevent roaming behaviours, which decreases the chances of your pets coming into contact with infected wildlife. Avoid getting too close to wildlife as the virus has a variable incubation period and may be difficult to assess symptoms.
Travelling outside of Canada with your pets can be difficult due to the Rabies status of different countries. Many countries require a variety of rabies protection measures. Some need vaccine certificates, while others may require microchipping and titre testing (antibody blood test) prior to entering the country. These tests are often time-sensitive, so it is always good to check out the needs of each country long before travel plans are finalized.
If you suspect that you have been bitten or come in contact with a rabid animal, you should: wash the wound well with soap and water for 10 min to decrease the chance of infection. Contact your doctor/local public health unit as soon as possible (KFL&A 1-800-267-7875).
OAVT Rabies Public Portal
- Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians
- BC Centre for Disease Control
- Centres for Disease Control and Prevention
If you have any questions, give us a call at 613.544.7387.
Written by: Maureen, RVT