What Pet Parents Need to Know About Rabies

By Dr. Anne Ray, Veterinarian

Everyone has heard of rabies, but did you know it’s more prevalent than you think? In 2019 there were 265 confirmed cases in the state of Maryland, and outside of wildlife, cats were the most affected. Here are all of the facts pet parents should know to keep your furry friends safe from rabies.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system of animals and humans. The virus infects the salivary gland and is transmitted by bites. The rabies virus travels from the site of the bite along the nervous pathways to the brain.

Where can Rabies be found?

Rabies can be found throughout the continental United States. Rabies is most frequently found in wildlife, most commonly raccoons, foxes, skunks, and bats. Domestic animals, including livestock, are also at risk, and cats are the most frequently identified rabid domestic animal.

What are the symptoms?

Once the virus is in the saliva, the affected animal will develop clinical signs with in 10 days. Symptoms include behavior changes including aggressiveness, confusion and delirium. Rabid animals may also stagger, drool, or become paralyzed.

How to treat Rabies?

Unfortunately there is no treatment at this time for animals infected with the rabies virus, so the only course of action is to euthanize the animal. Testing the blood and saliva has been unreliable source of diagnosis so post-mortem brain testing is necessary as it’s the only acceptable method to confirm the rabies virus is present in the animal.

How to prevent Rabies?

Since there is no treatment for the rabies virus, the best course of action is prevention in the form of the rabies vaccine. Because humans can contact rabies, the state of Maryland requires the vaccination of dogs, cats, ferrets, horses and certain livestock by a licensed veterinarian.

In small animals, the first Rabies vaccine is given between 12-16 weeks of age with a booster vaccine given 1 year later. Subsequent vaccines are given every 1-3 years depending on type of vaccine given. An animal is considered immunized within 28 days of the initial vaccination.

What you do if you encounter an animal with Rabies?

If you encounter an animal with rabies, do not approach or make contact with it and call your local animal control immediately. Below is the contact information for a few of the neighboring areas:

Our Veterinarians here at Rocky Gorge Animal Hospital will be happy to answer any questions regarding rabies and rabies vaccination.

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