It’s hard to believe it’s September, summer is winding down and the kids are back in school. This September holds a couple of important awareness campaigns for veterinarians and pet owners- September 28th is World Rabies Awareness Day and the week of September 29-October 5 is Animal Health Week in Canada. This year, these campaigns are even more important amidst the recent Rabies concerns in the news over the last weeks of August.
For those of you who aren’t aware, a person in Lethbridge Alberta was bitten by a Rabid bat while trying to get it away from a cat. In Calgary, a puppy was diagnosed with Rabies after it had died. While these cases made the news, there are many other rabid animals reported by veterinarians yearly.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency monitors many reportable diseases in wild animals and pets, including Rabies, and it is not uncommon for over 100 rabid animals to be reported yearly in Canada. While the numbers may seem low, you must remember that these numbers are only from the animals that are actually tested for Rabies. The actual number of Rabid animals is much higher, particularly in stray pets and wild animals that aren’t routinely handled by people and therefore may be rabid but die before diagnosis. These numbers become truly scary when you consider the severity of the disease.
Rabies is a neurological disease that can infect people and other warmblooded animals, and once signs show it is often fatal regardless of treatment. Thankfully, it is not common in people in North America because of pet vaccinations, although over 50,000 people die annually world-wide from it.
If you’ve read my other columns, you’ve hopefully noticed that preventative exams and diagnostics play an important role in our pet’s health – hence the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association making it the focus of an awareness week. While many pet owners know about vaccinations for their pets, fewer pets are being vaccinated and we are beginning to see outbreaks of Rabies and other diseases, such as Distemper in dogs, that can be prevented by vaccinations. What many people don’t realize is the importance of Rabies vaccines in preventing the spread to people. Rabies not only infects all warm-blooded animals, but at present the only test for rabies is by examining the brain after euthanasia, making testing all wild animals unfeasible and unattainable. Because of this, vaccinating our pets is the most important step in preventing human exposure to rabies as they interact with wild-animals and humans.
Pets can be infected with rabies and spread it to you before they show any signs and without biting you – all it really takes is their saliva getting into a cut or onto a mucous membrane such as your eyes, mouth or nasal cavity.
The slogan for this year’s Animal Health Week is “Their health is in your hands” but the inverse is true as well, because our health is also affected by our pets. Other examples of zoonotic diseases we can catch from animals include: Avian and Swine Flu, E. Coli, Giardia, various parasites, ringworm and West Nile.
Talk to your veterinarian how to best prevent these diseases in your animals and keep them healthy and happy.