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Randy Walker DVM

About Rabies...

Rabies is a highly fatal disease caused by a virus. Rabies can affect all warm blooded animals including humans, dogs, cats, bats, skunks, bobcats, cows, horses, wild pigs, coyotes, and many others.

What Are The Symptoms Of Rabies?

It should be emphasized that Rabies can take many forms, with no two cases being exactly the same. An animal infected with Rabies will usually first experience a behavioral change lasting about a day and a half. During this time a normally friendly dog or cat may become aggressive or vice-versa. Dilated pupils are also frequently seen in the early stages. Then, as the disease progresses, the affected animal will often become demented and may roam for long distances, biting at inanimate objects as well as other animals. Paralysis of the muscles of the throat and larynx (voice box) occurs in many victims at this time causing their voices to change and the animal to have excess drooling ("foaming at the mouth"). The Rabies victim also has trouble swallowing and will reject water if it's offered (called "hydrophobia"). These animals will often become blind and will attack and bite anything in their path. In the end the affected animal usually becomes lethargic, has pinpoint pupils, gradually becomes paralyzed, and goes into convulsions resulting in death. Rabies is universally fatal and most animals who develop clinical signs of Rabies are dead within four days.

Are The Symptoms Of Rabies Different Between Dogs And Cats?

The symptoms of Rabies are very similar between dogs and cats in most respects. The main exception is that cats are much more likely to go into the "furious" form of Rabies in which they viciously and aggressively attack and bite anything that moves before they die.

How Is Rabies Spread ?

Rabies is usually spread by the saliva of infected animals, usually through bite wounds. On very rare occasions Rabies can be transmitted by sneezing or spitting infectious saliva onto an open wound or the mucous membranes (inside the nose and mouth). The most common sources of exposure for people are bites from domesticated animals (dogs, cats, horses, etc) or bites from wild animals (skunks, bats, etc).

If Most Animals Afflicted With Rabies Are Dead Within Four Days, How Has This Virus Continued To Survive For Centuries?

This is because certain populations of wild animals (mainly skunks and bats) can become carriers of Rabies and act as a reservoir of infection for other animals. Skunks and bats can be infected from birth (through nursing and biting among themselves) and can carry and transmit Rabies for months and often years before dying of the disease. A good rule of thumb is to treat all wild bats and skunks as Rabies carriers. In other words avoid them as much as possible and call your Rabies Animal Control department (check your local telephone information).

What Are The Public Health Statistics For Rabies In Wildlife?

This statistic varies throughout the world and so let me tell you some recent local statistics for my home state of Arizona as an example. In Arizona for the year of 1992 the confirmed cases of wildlife Rabies includes: 41 skunks, 31 bats (equally divided between migratory bats such as the Mexican free tails and local bats such as the Brown bats and Hoary bats), and 2 bobcats (a wild cousin of the house cat). In recent years Rabies has also been seen in foxes, horses, and cows in Arizona. It should also be emphasized that these are the confirmed cases that were examined and documented in the laboratory. There are undoubtedly more cases of Rabies out there in nature which don't reach the attention of the public health officials. Since IVH enjoys a world wide audience I should also point out that Rabies is a much greater threat in many other countries around the world than it is in the U.S. Check with your local veterinary officials for the frequency of Rabies in your area.

Is The Number Of Cases Of Rabies In Wildlife Increasing Or Decreasing?

Again let me share my local numbers with you and then let you contact your local veterinary health officials for the answers for your specific location. The numbers of cases of Rabies in Arizona wildlife (mainly skunks, bats, bobcats, and foxes) is increasing. In recent years the total numbers of Rabies cases in Arizona has been as follows:

                                                        1990 - 34 cases

                                                        1991 - 56 cases

                                                        1992 - 74 cases

This is a 118% increase in confirmed cases of wildlife Rabies over these years.

What Has Been The Incidence Of Rabies In Dogs And Cats In Recent Years?

Due to the effectiveness of our Rabies prevention program, Rabies has declined dramatically in Arizona in recent years. The most recent cases of Rabies in dogs were in the southwestern counties of Arizona (adjoining the Mexican border) in 1985 and 1986. Numbers of cases of Rabies in dogs have been decreasing in Arizona since the 1950's when dozens of cases of Rabies in dogs were reported each year. The success our Rabies prevention program is even more impressive when you consider that our state directly adjoins the country of Mexico where Rabies is still a major problem in the dog and cat population. In recent years more cases of Rabies have been noted in cats than dogs. 3 Arizona cats died from Rabies in 1991; 1 cat died in 1990; and 2 cats died in 1989.

Why Is Rabies Now More Prevalent In Cats Than Dogs?

This is because our statewide Rabies prevention program is enforced by law in the dog population but is not enforced by law in the cat population, therefore many cats do not get vaccinated.

Why Has The Incidence Of Rabies In Pets Decreased In Our State (Arizona) In Recent Years?

The decrease in rabies cases in dogs and cats is due to two factors: (1) Our statewide Rabies prevention (vaccination) program and (2) the leash and other animal restraint laws which our Rabies Animal Control officers enforce. Of the two factors, our Rabies vaccination program (which is one of the shining success stories in

any branch of preventive medicine) has been most responsible for the decrease in Rabies deaths in both domestic animals and people. It should be noted, however, that while the incidence of Rabies is decreasing in the domestic animal population, Rabies is definitely on the increase in wildlife in many areas.

How Many People Have Died Of Rabies Since Records Have Been Kept?

Since records have been kept in Arizona one human being has died of Rabies in each of the following years: 1943; 1950; 1970; and 1981. The 1981 case was a 40 year old man who was bitten by a rabid dog. The 1970 case was a 9 year old boy who was bitten by a rabid skunk. I don't have the details for the previous cases (1943 and 1950).

Briefly, Describe The Protocol For The Rabies Vaccination In Dogs And Cats.

We recommend an initial Rabies vaccination followed by a booster vaccination one year later. Then, in Arizona, we booster the Rabies vaccination every 3rd year thereafter. (NOTE: Other states' and country's requirements for Rabies vaccination will vary from state to state with some states being 1 year, 2 year, and 3 year states depending on the laws passed by their local state legislatures. If you move to another state you should check the local Rabies vaccination ordinances for that area.)

- Randy Walker DVM
Sun Lakes Animal Clinic
May 17,2004

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
- Anatole France, 1921 Nobel Prize Speech -

Titlebar Image: The Gentle Doctor, 1937-38 by Christian Peterson (U84.179) - Iowa State University