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Rabies on the Rise

An Ossining veterinarian puts the increase in Westchester rabies cases into perspective.

Rabies on the Rise

For good reason, the word 'Rabies' instills fear in all of us. This deadly disease has been on the rise in our area for years, and exists in many of the species of wildlife living in Westchester County.

Rabies transmission begins when saliva from an infected animal is passed to another through a bite. The virus then travels along nerve cells to the brain where it multiplies and then moves to the salivary glands of the newly infected organism. Rabies transmission from non-bite exposure is rare. Scratches, open wounds, or mucous membranes contaminated with saliva or other potentially infectious material (such as brain tissue) from a rabid animal, constitute non-bite exposure.

You cannot tell if an animal is rabid just by looking at it. Some very good indications are that if you see a usually nocturnal animal during the day, if the animal is acting unusually aggressive or if the animal is looking sick — drooling, poor coat condition, wobbly gait, there is a very good chance it is rabid.

With the increasing occurrences of confirmed rabies cases in our area, 
it is crucial that all family pets, dogs and cats be properly vaccinated for rabies. Cats that are strictly indoors are also required by law to be current on the rabies vaccination. We have been involved with several cases where a bat or other wild animal got into a client’s house. It is far more common than you think as screens and windows may not stop entry.  In some of the cases the pet was not vaccinated, or was behind on the rabies vaccine. In these situations, the Health Department’s involvement was required. Simply keeping their pet properly vaccinated would have reduced the stress that these families experienced.


Rabies Vaccination in Dogs

There are several types of vaccines. Most veterinarians today use what is called a 3 year rabies vaccine.  This implies that it protects your pet for 3 years, however, the local laws created by the Health Department supersede the vaccine’s manufacturer recommendations. In Westchester, all dogs receive their first vaccine at three months of age. They are then required to receive a booster of the rabies vaccine one year later.  This second vaccine is considered protective for 3 years, BUT it is recommended that it be given every 2 years. If you wait 3 years and are delinquent by one day then your pet is considered not vaccinated properly.  We strongly urge that all dogs get vaccinated every two years to avoid this issue and to be sure your pet has the highest possible protective antibody titers.

Rabies Vaccination in Cats

ALL cats must be vaccinated. They have a similar protocol as dogs.  The first vaccine is given at three months and then boosted again one year later. This is where there a major difference. The 3 year rabies vaccine is an adjuvanted vaccine and has been implicated in causing cancer in cats. An adjuvanted vaccine is a vaccine where a pharmacological agent is added to increase or aid its effect.  We use a non adjuvanted rabies vaccine specifically formulated for cats, that is not linked to this cancer but it is protective against rabies for only one year.  Veterinarians using this specialized vaccine recommend that cats get a rabies vaccine yearly
Rabies is a very serious disease and a very real issue in our area and following a few simple steps can prevent the spread of this disease. Keep all pets properly vaccinated according to the guidelines recommended by your veterinarian.  Keep all cats as indoor pets. Avoid any wild animal out and about during the day.

The animal warden in your community should be contacted if there are any suspicious animals observed. If you have further questions I can be contacted at hudsonvet@hudsonvet.com.

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