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Exposure, symptoms and diagnosis

Pets and other animals

Can pregnant dogs or nursing mothers be vaccinated against rabies?

The rabies vaccines are inactivated and should be safe to use in both pregnant and nursing dogs, and the risk would be further reduced if they have been previously vaccinated.

Will dog vaccination be effective in controlling rabies if rabies is endemic in a local wildlife species?

In Asia and Africa (with the exception of some areas in southern Africa), the domestic dog is the main “reservoir” for rabies. Usually, there is only one reservoir host population for rabies in any given area, and controlling the disease in this population results in its disappearance from all other species. This has been shown with the elimination of rabies following oral vaccination of foxes in Western Europe, where red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are the reservoir host.

Research projects in eastern Africa prove that mass vaccination of domestic dogs, even in areas (such as the Serengeti ecosystem) that comprise a wide diversity of wildlife species, reduces rabies significantly. When a sufficient percentage of the domestic dog population is vaccinated (70%), rabies also declines in wildlife species and human exposures to the rabies virus are significantly reduced.

Even when rabies is not controlled in wildlife, dogs are often the animals that transmit rabies to humans. So, vaccinated dogs can and do form a barrier to protect humans from rabies exposure.

A vaccinated pet dog is bitten by a rabid animal. What should the owner do?

If you suspect that your pet has been bitten by an animal that is rabid or potentially rabid, you should take it to a veterinarian immediately. If your pet is up-to-date on his rabies vaccinations, then a booster should be administered immediately and your pet should be observed for a period of time, according to the local requirements.

Your veterinarian should report the biting incident to the local health department so that the potential rabies case can be monitored. The animal that bit your pet should be identified to the local animal control office, and if it is still at large, animal control can capture and submit it for diagnostic testing. If rabies is not present in the tissues of the biting animal, the exposed pet that is up-to-date with its vaccinations is not at risk for rabies. If there is no way to confirm whether the biting animal was rabid, then veterinary experts usually assume exposure to rabies, and the bitten pet should receive a booster shot and be observed for a period of time according to the state or government requirements.

If the biting animal was rabid, and your pet was not up-to-date with their rabies booster or was not vaccinated at all, then the local public health officer may recommend that the pet be immediately euthanized. Pets, with up to date rabies vaccination that have been exposed to a wild animal should be given a booster shot and observed for a period of time according to the local requirements.

How can I tell if my pet has rabies?

Often you can’t tell by looking.

An animal with rabies may stagger or stumble and display unprovoked aggressive behavior or be over-friendly. Animals with advanced rabies may also foam at the mouth. This is because the rabies virus affects the salivary glands causing hyper-salivation. They may also develop hydrophobia (fear of water).

None of these symptoms are definitive signs that an animal has rabies, and rabid animals may or may not exhibit these signs.

If an animal shows any of these signs, you should contain it to prevent possible exposure either to you, your family, or another animal, and contact your veterinarian or animal health department.

To confirm an infection, the animal must be euthanized and a brain tissue sample must be tested for the presence of rabies in a reputable laboratory.

Can animals receive post-exposure vaccinations?

Booster doses of rabies vaccine are given if a previously vaccinated animal is exposed to rabies virus to protect them. However, there are no recommended PEP regimens for unvaccinated animals. Unvaccinated animals that are exposed to the rabies will usually be euthanized, or more rarely, put into extended quarantine (isolation) during which time they are vaccinated. Animals with expired rabies vaccinations will usually be put into quarantine for observation and revaccination. This underlines the importance of maintaining current rabies vaccination in pets.

What is the earliest age at which my dog can be vaccinated?

Every rabies vaccine has specific recommendations regarding which animals it is prepared for and when an animal should be vaccinated. Pet owners should vaccinate their puppies at 12 weeks of age and again at one year, and then according to the further recommendations of the vaccine manufacturer.

In dog rabies endemic countries where vaccination is by annual mass vaccination campaigns, all dogs including those less than 3 months old should be vaccinated. This gives the best chance of breaking the transmission of the disease.

What can I do to protect my pet from rabies?

Vaccinate pets according to the recommended schedule, and take your pet to the veterinarian for a booster should they get bitten by a potentially rabid animal. Additionally, spay or neuter your pet to reduce the number of potential strays that are not vaccinated against rabies. Keeping your pet on a leash when outdoors prevents inadvertent exposure to a rabid wild animal.

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