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Why vaccinate for rabies?
By Kathy Schnizler

Most of us dog and cat "parents" know that state law requires us to vaccinate our pets against rabies if they are four months of age or older. Why are these vaccinations so important that there is a law requiring us to do this? To answer this question we must understand exactly what rabies is and how it is spread.

Rabies is a deadly virus that can potentially infect any mammal. This would include cats, dogs and even humans. The main wildlife species in our area of North Carolina that carry and spread this virus are raccoons, foxes, skunks, and bats. Because it is a disease that attacks the nervous system, when an animal shows symptoms of rabies it is too late to do anything to save the animals life. Vaccination has proven to be the only way to ensure your pet does not become infected.

The disease is usually spread when an infected animal bites another animal. Dogs and cats are more likely to come in direct contact with infected wildlife than we are so vaccinating our pets against rabies helps to provide a "barrier" between us and infected wildlife. This decreases our chances of catching rabies from our pets. It is important to remember however that the rabies virus lives in the saliva of an infected animal and any contact with the saliva could cause infection through open wounds or mucus membranes. If you know your pet has been in contact with a potentially rabid animal you should avoid touching him when possible or put gloves on and bathe him with soap and water. You should contact your veterinarian, your doctor, and your local animal control office.

If your pet comes in contact with a rabid animal and her rabies vaccination is current your veterinarian can give her a booster shot and your physician can advise you on whether you will need to receive any medical care. If your pet is not current on her vaccination, the law requires that she be quarantined at an approved facility for six months at your expense. This can cost you thousands of dollars. Many people cannot afford this expense and so their animals are euthanized as a result.

Many county animal control offices hold low cost rabies clinics for the public. The cost is usually $5.00 and your pet will receive a vaccination from a licensed veterinarian. You will be provided with proof of the vaccination, a date when the vaccination expires, and a tag for your pet's collar. Contact your local animal control office for dates and times in your area.