Because World Rabies Day is September 28th we want to take some time to talk about rabies in your pets.

We’re here to answer your questions about rabies, and make sure that you and your pet stay safe.

­What is Rabies?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), rabies is a “preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal.”

The rabies virus affects the central nervous system and progresses very quickly to paralysis and death.

How is it transmitted?

Rabies is most commonly spread by through bites. The saliva from the infected animal transmits the rabies vaccine to the formerly un-affected animal.

Rabies can be found in all mammals, but the CDC reports that the most common cases each year occur in wild animals such as

  • Bats,
  • Foxes,
  • Raccoons, and
  • Skunks.

Abnormal behavior in wild animals, in Michigan especially skunks and bats, should be treated like rabies, until proven otherwise. Abnormal behavior in both these animals includes being active in the daytime.

Other signs of rabies in skunks, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation, includes

  • Aggressiveness,
  • Seizures,
  • Stumbling, and
  • Vocalizing.

The CDC reports that other signs of rabies in bats include

  • Being easily approachable, and
  • Inability to fly.

Bats are the most common rabid animal in Michigan, and even strictly indoor pets can be exposed if a bat gets into the house. In domesticated animals, cats are the most commonly reported rabid animals, according to Merck Veterinary Manual.

The North Dakota Department of Health reports that domesticated animals (dogs, cats, and ferrets) only have 4-5 days to transfer the rabies virus, through saliva and bites, to other animals and humans before they begin to show symptoms.

What are the statistics of rabies in Michigan?

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ (MIDHHS) Positive Animal Rabies Test, so far this year, Southeast Michigan has

  • 8 confirmed cases of rabies in Oakland County,
  • 6 cases in Washtenaw,
  • 3 cases in Macomb,
  • 1 case in Lapeer,
  • 1 case in Livingston,
  • 1 case in St. Clair, and
  • 1 case in Wayne.

Should I vaccinate my pets?

Short answer: Yes!

Without the vaccine, pets are likely to acquire rabies from the infected bite. Once they acquire the disease, the symptoms are swift, and rabies is almost 100% fatal.

Additionally, all dogs in the state of Michigan must be vaccinated, according to Rabies.org. There is no state requirement for cats, ferrets, or horses. In order to be a licensed pet owner in Macomb county, an up to date rabies vaccine is required, and animals must be licensed yearly.

Vaccination specifics should be discussed on an individual basis with your veterinarian. Some of these specifics include

  • Minimum age of vaccination, and
  • How often to re-vaccinate.

What are the symptoms?

After being infected, the rabies virus can stay in the body for weeks or months before any symptoms begin to show.

Dogs and cats display the same symptoms of rabies.

The most consistent symptoms are behavioral changes and paralysis.

These behavioral changes include

  • Appetite loss,
  • Increased irritability.
  • Changes in friendliness, and
  • Changes in excitability.

For example:

  • If your pet is usually shy, it will become unusually friendly and hyper.
  • If your pet is usually super lovable, it may become especially aggressive.

Merck notes that the paralysis seen in dogs and cats is usually unexplained and worsens with time. Merck also says that paralysis usually starts with the throat and jaw muscles, which is shown in your pet’s inability to swallow and excess salivation.

What happens if my pet gets exposed to rabies?

Vaccinated pets who are bitten by an infected animal should be placed in isolation and observation for 45 days, according to the CDC. A licensed vet must examine your pet before and after the 45-day period.

  • If your pet is still healthy and symptom free at the end of 45 days, they have not contracted rabies.
  • If you pet has starts displaying symptoms indicative of rabies, most vets will recommend euthanasia.

Pets with expired rabies vaccines need to be evaluated by veterinarians on an individual case basis.

Pets without the rabies vaccine are usually euthanatized. If an owner is unwilling to euthanize their pet, the pet must be placed in isolation for six months and vaccinated one month before leaving isolation.

Because rabies is virtually 100% fatal, vaccinating your pet protects them and the humans your pet is in contact with from contracting the disease.

Can I prevent my pet from getting rabies?

We have a couple suggestions for keeping your pet safe from rabies.

Our first suggestion is to keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date, and to keep in touch with your veterinarian.

Second, keep your eye (or a leash) on your pets to make sure they do not come into contact with any wild animals who may have rabies.

Does HSM do anything to help prevent rabies?

We vaccinate all dogs and cats over 12 weeks old who stay in our facility.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to reach out, and we will be happy to address any other issues or concerns.

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