Frightening news about rabid animal attacks these past few months cause worry for all. Symptoms of rabies do not appear right away and, by the time they do, there is no treatment. The only way to positively identify a case of rabies is through laboratory testing of brain tissue. Therefore, the suspect animal must be decapitated.
For humans and animals, the only hope is vaccination.
As of Dec. 5, 2002, 137 cases of animal rabies have been reported in Arizona -- compared with 128 on this date for 2001, according to Elizabeth Lawaczeck, DVM, from the Office of Infectious Diseases, Arizona Department of Health Services.
Rabies seeks out nerve endings. It finds its way to the central nervous system which leads to the brain where the disease incubates and multiplies.
A dog biting an infected animal and coming in contact with fluid from the central nervous system will become infected if not vaccinated.
Don Tanner, Animal Control Officer, urges anyone who sees a suspicious animal to contact the police department. They will make the contacts and get someone out right away. Keep children and pets away.
Tanner reports that five foxes and one bobcat have been found to be rabid this year in Gila County. Two foxes and the bobcat were within Payson town limits. Tanner stresses the need for all dogs and cats to be vaccinated, adding that the low cost of vaccination could save the family such pain and grief. An unvaccinated dog or cat that bites a human must be quarantined.
Because rabies is found in the saliva, a bite from the sick animal is the primary way rabies is transmitted, but infected saliva can also enter the body through the nose, mouth or eyes. Dogs and cats might eat an infected animal which would transfer the disease. Rabies can be transmitted through the air, but this is only in closed spaces such as a bat cave and incidences are rare. Bats can infect humans, particularly children, who might handle one that is dead or sick, but bats have not been a factor this year.
Although an infected animal will not show signs of the disease right away, it can still infect people and other animals during that time.
Dr. Patti Blackmore, DVM, of Pine Country Animal Clinic in Payson, says that the simple and easy solution is to vaccinate all dogs and cats. Ferrets, horses and llamas also should be vaccinated. The normal charge for in-office rabies vaccination is $18 to $20.
Dr. Alan Hallman, DVM, of Star Valley Veterinary Clinic, recently held a reduced price vaccination clinic at which 53 pets were vaccinated. He holds these clinics two or three times each year for the benefit of those who cannot afford the in-office charge.
According to Blackmore, the first signs of rabies are difficulty in swallowing and salivating. Depression, staggering, nervousness and eventual paralysis follow, and then death. A typically docile animal is likely to become ferocious and a normally unfriendly or shy animal can become aggressive, which is most often seen in wild animals such as foxes and skunks. Normally, a dog will begin to exhibit these signs 13 to 20 days after infection and will become continually more incapacitated until its death. A pet exposed to rabies is put into quarantine.
Diane Fitzpatrick at the Payson Humane Society reports that if your nonvaccinated dog or cat is bitten by a wild animal and the head of that animal is not available for testing, or if the head of that animal is available and it proved to be rabid, your pet will go into quarantine for six months. If the animal is found not to be rabid, your pet would be quarantined for 10 days. However, if your pet has a current rabies vaccination, you would be instructed to get a rabies booster but no quarantine is needed.
Pets are quarantined at the Gila County pound in Globe and the owner is charged $1,285.00 for six months. Because of the high fee, most of these suspect pets are euthanized. Either way, it's a high price to pay compared to a $20 vaccination.
Every dog and cat over the age of six months is required to have a rabies vaccination, Blackmore said. The first dose is good for one year. Thereafter, the vaccination is needed every three years. Keeping these shot records in a handy file avoids stress and worry. Some veterinarians send out reminder notices but others do not. The responsibility rests with the pet owner.
In summary, Blackmore sends the following message, "I urge everyone to have their pets vaccinated. It's an inexpensive insurance policy -- and rabies shots are only required for dogs -- not cats. But, cats should have them also."