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Rabies is still an issue today! – World Rabies Day

Posted 09.23.15 by Kassie Newton, DVM

Rabies1Almost everyone has heard of rabies or remembers the book/movie Old Yeller. Thankfully, this is a disease that has become much less frequent here in the United States, though in other countries it can still sadly be fairly common.

Recently, a feral cat in Starkville, MS was confirmed to have rabies disease and has created a big scare in the area. The story is raising more awareness and questions on this terrible disease. With World Rabies Day coming up on September 28, the timing for education couldn’t be better.

Below is some general information that may answer some of your questions or concerns.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system. Any mammal can contract the virus, including humans. This virus is mostly carried by multiple wildlife species which is why we cannot seem to eradicate it. The most common culprits in the United States are bats, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, and foxes. Below is a map where they try to track which species is most commonly carrying rabies. However bats are always a danger everywhere, which is why they do not appear on the map:


How can my pet get rabies? How can I get rabies?

Rabies is carried in saliva, so the only way it is transmitted is either through a bite (most common), scratch, or open wound. Once bitten, the virus begins to replicate and eventually makes its way through the nerves to the brain.

It can take anywhere from a few days to years for an animal or human to show clinical signs after they are exposed to the virus. rabies 3Typically the first signs are vague, including fever, lethargy, and trembling. From there it progresses to disorientation, hallucinations, fear of water (hydrophobia), and aggression. While the most commonly remembered form of Rabies is something we all recall from watching Old Yeller, there are actually multiple ways it
can present in other animals. The furious form (or “mad dog” form), the paralytic or dumb form (where you simply see paralysis, somnolence), and then species specific forms more commonly seen in larger animals like cows and horses.

Is There A Test?

There is no test that can determine the presence of rabies until there are clinical signs. In people, if rabies is suspected doctors will attempt to test various samples, but this isn’t always very accurate. The only way to definitively determine the presence of rabies virus in humans or animals is running specific antibody tests on a tissue sample of the brain.

Can You Treat It?

In humans, the best way to prevent the disease is to take action. If you are potentially exposed to an animal with rabies, immediately seek medical attention. Your physician will mostly likely administer a series of shots that will prevent the virus from spreading. If this doesn’t occur and a person starts to show clinical signs, there is very little that can be done for treatment. At this point, the disease is 99% fatal. There is one teenage girl in 2004 who survived by being placed into a coma but this has not been repeatable with other cases.

If you work regularly with animals you can also go through the rabies vaccines, which is a series of 3 shots given in various increments. All veterinarians are required to be rabies vaccinated simply due to our lifestyle. This will prevent you from getting the virus even if you are exposed.

For animals, once they show clinical signs there is no treatment. If you suspect your animal may have been exposed, there is a protocol that all veterinarians follow so please contact your veterinarian immediately.


The best way to prevent your dog or cat from contracting rabies is by vaccinating. Per state law every domestic dog and cat is required to be rabies vaccinated. In cats, the rabies vaccine is good for 1 year. In dogs, there are 2 different vaccines available – a 1 year vaccine and a 3 year vaccine. By following the recommendations of your veterinarian, you can provide your dog or cat 100% protection from this very scary disease.

Have More Questions?

There is a lot of great information posted on multiple websites to find out more about rabies. The World Health Organization and CDC are great reliable sources:

 More questions? Contact your local veterinarian!

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