World Rabies Day: September 28, 2013

World Rabies Day takes place each year on September 28, the anniversary of the death of Louis Pasteur who, with the collaboration of his colleagues, developed the first efficacious rabies vaccine. The promotion of World Rabies Day aims to raise awareness about the impact of rabies on humans and animals, provide information and advice on how to prevent the disease, and inform us of ways individuals and organizations can help eliminate global sources (World Rabies Day website, 2010). A recent article in the Palm Beach Post sets the tone for this year’s World Rabies Day blog. Four people, trying to help a sick kitten, have been exposed to rabies and have undergone rabies post exposure prophylaxis.

Feline rabies rising

This story helps underscore the importance of rabies vaccination in cats. Depending on the laws in your town and the type of vaccination used, cats may need to be vaccinated for rabies every one, two or three years by your primary care veterinarian.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports feline rabies is on the rise. For the last three decades, the animal causing the most human exposure to rabies is the cat. According to New York State’s Wadsworth Laboratory, which performs statewide rabies testing, between 2003 and 2009 in New York State, there were about 25-30 feline cases of rabies per year. That number jumped to about 40 cases in 2010-2011, decreased to the usual level in 2012, and hopefully will continue to decrease.

The Wadsworth Laboratory also reports cats are the number two animal tested (behind bats) and the number one domestic species tested for rabies. In 2012, 22 New York State cats tested positive for rabies, but no dogs tested positive for the rabies virus. Dog rabies occurs infrequently due to the successful vaccination programs in place.

Veterinarians are concerned the number of feline rabies cases will not decrease, since cats see their doctors less often than dogs see theirs. Fewer veterinary visits mean fewer opportunities to vaccinate cats against rabies, resulting in more unvaccinated cats at risk of developing rabies.

Feral cat reservoir?

Since feral cats live at the intersection between humans and wild animals, some suggest feral cats serve as a reservoir for rabies. The rabid kitten of the Palm Beach Post article was believed to have come from a feral cat colony. Some colonies of feral cats are managed to facilitate population control and rabies prevention, but the Palm Beach colony was not managed in any way, causing some to call for removal of the entire colony.

Protecting your cat against rabies

  • Vaccination is the best method for preventing rabies. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations.
  • Keep your cat indoors and away from wild animals that may harbor rabies.
  • Don’t feed wild animals in your yard; you may be attracting trouble and putting your pets and family at risk.

Check out the Worms & Germs Blog for more information about rabies.

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