Rabies vaccine in pets helps protect humans
By Erica Smith
For the Enquirer
Tracie Hales has vaccinated her dog Abby against rabies all of Abby’s life even though she is mostly an indoor dog. Hales said one reason she keeps Abby up to date on her rabies vaccinations is because Abby enjoys chasing wild animals that get in their backyard.
The Morgan County woman said she also has other reasons for vaccinating Abby, a 12-year-old mixed breed rescue dog.
“If you take her to Petco to get washed or anything, nobody will do that unless your dog has a rabies shot,” she said. “I think all grooming places require vaccinations for rabies.”
Vigilance against rabies is warranted. The disease can spread from other mammals to humans and can be fatal if untreated. To help prevent its spread, Morgan County will hold its annual rabies clinic Saturday.
Rabies exists in all Alabama counties within the wildlife population, Decatur veterinarian Dr. Steve Osborne said. It can be seen in animals such as bats, skunks, foxes and racoons.
“Dogs and cats are the interface between the wildlife population and the people population,” he said.
Melissa Wallace, who lives just outside of Priceville, has three cats and two dogs she has vaccinated against rabies since she has owned them.
“We live in a rural area so we’ve got the raccoons, coyotes, bats, so if they were to be bitten by a wild animal then it increases the chances that they would get sick,” Wallace said.
“The dogs, they’re in and out. The cats are indoor, but I didn’t want to take a chance if they were to get outside and get attacked by a wild animal or
even another domestic animal that may not have been vaccinated,” she said.
Wallace said another reason she vaccinates her pets is in case they bite someone. She said she is trying to be safe for all pets and people.
Osborne said rabies affects the brain and causes the infected mammal to exhibit abnormal behavior. “If you’re a domesticated animal, or a dog or a cat, you tend to go crazy in terms of being more aggressive.”
“If you’re a wildlife animal that’s kind of wild to begin with, a lot of times you go the opposite direction. You go dull or quiet or less afraid of humans,” he said. “A dog gets bit, and it can bite a lot of people as it runs through the neighborhood aggressively attacking stuff.”
If a human or pet is bitten by a rabid animal and has not shown symptoms of rabies yet, there is treatment available in the form of two or three injections.
However, Osborne said, “Once you start showing symptoms, it’s too late. It’s 100 percent fatal. That’s why it’s critical to know as soon as possible after a bite whether or not there was a potential transmission at that time. Because that gives you a little bit of time to try to treat it before it gets to your brain.”
Rabies can infect all mammals and only mammals. The rabies vaccine, introduced in the mid-1940s, is the only vaccination required by state and federal law to be administered to dogs and cats.
“Every dog and cat, three months of age and older, has to be vaccinated for rabies,” Osborne said.
Annual shots are most common while some veterinarian offices also offer three-year shots.
Osborne said the law is enforced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“It is designed to prevent rabies, really in people. That’s why the health department’s in charge of it. That’s why it is a law.”
Chris Hales, Tracie’s husband, said he thinks the importance of getting your pet vaccinated against rabies is common knowledge.
“You don’t want to worry about your animal picking it up from someplace around town or getting it and then biting somebody and then giving them a disease.”
Due to the high number of rabid animals in the 1940s, a rabies clinic was introduced across Alabama.
“There was a commitment to utilize the veterinarian profession to vaccinate the dog and cat population to a degree that would provide this barrier and prevent the virus from moving out of the woods and the wildlife reservoir into the suburban areas,” Osborne said.
For the annual clinic, veterinarians make stops across Morgan County on one day a year to administer rabies vaccinations at a discounted rate. While people can take their pets at any time to a veterinarian’s office for a vaccine, the clinic is still held because it encourages vaccination by being cheaper and closer to people’s homes, Osborne said.
Morgan County’s rabies clinic Saturday will include two routes and office hours for vaccinations. Osborne said each veterinarian typically administers anywhere from 300 to 500 vaccines on his or her route. Any other day at a veterinarian’s office a pet owner could pay around $18 to $24 for a vaccine but the cost is only $14 during the clinic.