For many years, Canadian dog owners have been expected to get their pets a regular Rabies vaccination. But how much of a risk does Rabies really present to your pet, and does the Rabies vaccine offer adequate protection? In the past, pets were vaccinated annually, but in recent years pet owners have questioned whether this is really necessary. The trend is changing to three-yearly vaccination instead. Dr. Kadri explains:
What is Rabies?
Rabies is an infectious disease caused by a virus that reproduces in the brain and causes damage that produces violent and irrational behaviour. The virus then spreads to the salivary glands and mixes with the saliva in the mouth of the carrier. It can spread from animals to humans and has killed 24 Canadians since 1924 when record-keeping began.
How can pets contract Rabies?
Pets mostly contract Rabies from coming into contact with the saliva, bodily fluids or tissues of an infected animal. Rabies affects a variety of animals, including:
- Livestock such as cattle, horses, sheep, goats and pigs
- Domestic pets such as dogs, cats and ferrets
- Wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats and meat-eating animals including wolves and coyotes.
Your pet can contract the virus by eating the flesh or excrement of an infected animal, drinking from the same water bowl or simply frequenting the same area and coming into contact with saliva.
Level of Risk
The level of risk depends on factors such as whether the dog has had a Rabies vaccination, as well as where and how often you walk your dog. It also depends on whether he walks off-lead or on-lead only so you can monitor anything he ingests, and whether there’s ever a risk of physical contact with wild animals such as raccoons and skunks. Up to 30% of confirmed cases of Rabies in Ontario are found in skunks and bats, while up to 6% of cases are found in dogs and 2.5% in cats.
So from the sounds of it, it’s not that easy or common for Canadian domestic cats and dogs to catch Rabies. However, that’s not the reason for a Rabies vaccination. The real reason why you need to get your pet vaccinated is because once it is contracted, the disease is incredibly devastating. It’s not only an almost certain death sentence for your pet, but you or members of your family could possibly develop the illness too. Even if you don’t, treatment for a possible Rabies infection involves a course of immunization to prevent the disease from developing to the point that symptoms appear, after which it may be too late to save the patient.
Keeping your pet’s Rabies vaccination updated is vitally important everywhere in Ontario, and many places such as dog groomers and pet sitters won’t accept animals without proof of a Rabies vaccination. The Ontario Veterinary Medical association recommends that dogs and cats get vaccinated at the age of three months, and then again by the date specified on the vaccine package. This is usually one year later, and it acts as a booster. This protects your pet for the next three years, and although many veterinarians still practice annual vaccination for Rabies, it is not actually required by law or the manufacturers of the vaccine. In some cases, animals – especially cats – with risks of auto-immune conditions may be better off not being vaccinated, but only your veterinarian can help you to determine if that’s the case.