Companion animals today are so fortunate to live longer, healthier lives than they have in the past. In part, this is due to effective vaccines that protect them (and us) from infectious and deadly disease. Over the past several decades, the widespread use of vaccinations in the United States against diseases like rabies have saved millions of lives and driven rabies into relative obscurity. 

But make no mistake; the risk of rabies is still present. In fact, it is responsible for the deaths of over 55,000 people annually worldwide. And, rabies still presents a significant threat to dogs and cats who go unvaccinated. For these reasons, pet owners and veterinarians cannot become complacent about the importance of keeping their pets up to date on their rabies vaccinations. 

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that affects the central nervous system. All warm blooded animals – including wildlife, cats, dogs, and humans – are susceptible. Though not common, the disease is 100% fatal in animals, and is still prevalent in wildlife such as skunks, raccoons, bats, and foxes – which may have contact with domestic pets. 

People and pets become infected through a bite wound. The virus travels from the bite wound to the brain and then to the salivary glands, where it can be spread by the bite of an infected animal. Because one of the main clinical signs is aggression, bites from rabid animals are common.

Because rabies is transmissible to humans, and because it is generally fatal, any pet that bites a human and has an unknown or out of date rabies vaccination must be either quarantined or euthanized, depending on state law. 

Rabies Vaccination 

Because of the potentially serious human health implications, rabies vaccination of dogs is required by law in all 50 states. Some states (including Illinois) require that cats be vaccinated for rabies as well. 

In developing countries, rabies in humans still occurs on a regular basis. It’s only because of the effectiveness of the rabies vaccination program in the United States that we see so little of it. 

The rabies vaccination schedule in Illinois includes an initial vaccination at 4 months of age, followed by a booster vaccine within one year of the first. Subsequent vaccination occurs either annually or every 3 years, depending on the vaccine given. 

Preventing Rabies

  • All pets – indoor and outdoor – should be vaccinated for rabies
  • Limit contact with stray or unknown pets
  • Limit contact with wildlife
  • If you are bitten by a wild animal, seek medical care immediately
  • Report any suspicious behavior in wildlife to the local authorities

If you have any questions about rabies vaccination or how to keep your pet healthy and well, please reach out to The Pet Experts at Springbrook Animal Care Center.