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Val Caron Animal Hospital

3055 Highway 69 N
Val Caron, ON P3N 1R8


Protect Yourself and Your Pet Against Rabies Virus

Rabies is a serious viral disease that can be fatal in wildlife, pets and humans. According to the World Health Organization, worldwide, more than 55 000 people die of rabies every year. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, in Canada, only 23 people have died since 1924 from the rabies virus. This is due to excellent prevention and control programs.

Infection with the rabies virus usually occurs by the bite of an infected animal. It can also be transmitted if infected saliva comes into contact with any open skin wound. Once the virus has entered the bite wound, it will travel to the spinal cord and brain via the nervous system. Once the virus arrives at the head and spinal cord, the virus replicates rapidly in the salivary glands and in the part of the brain responsible for behaviour, causing significant clinical signs. These signs can be divided into two forms. 

The first form is the furious or psychotic phase. Animals with this form may be restless, nervous, irritable, aggressive and may lose their fear of humans. They may snap at imaginary objects, bite their cage and may have an exaggerated response to sound and light. 

The second is the paralytic form (also know as dumb form), which causes paralysis of the nervous system as the virus moves through the body. These animals may have difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, hoarse vocalization and a dropped jaw. Animals with either form can become uncoordinated, have seizures, become comatose, and will eventually die due to paralysis of the nerves that control muscles responsible for breathing. Once an animal has shown clinical signs, death occurs within 7 days.

Preventing rabies in your pets can be accomplished by having your pet vaccinated against the rabies virus on a routine basis. This includes one vaccination for your puppy or kitten at 12 - 16 weeks of age and again in one year. Depending on the veterinarians' protocol, the rabies virus may be repeated one year later followed by vaccinating every 3 years. It is critical to continue to vaccinate your dog and cat, as he/she gets older.  For the majority of public health units in Ontario, it is legally required to have your dog and cat vaccinated against the rabies virus.

In addition, limiting your pets' exposure to wildlife can also reduce the risk of your animal becoming infected with the rabies virus. All mammals can be carriers of the virus, but bats. foxes and skunks seem to be overrepresented in Ontario. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency reported that 2 dead bats tested positive for rabies in the Sudbury and surrounding region in August 2011. These bats were found in Espanola and Chelmsford homes. Reducing human exposure to the rabies virus can be accomplished by avoiding contact with bats or any strange acting animals as well as bat proofing your home or cottage. Not surprisingly, dog bites make up a large number of human rabies cases. Thus, a greater number of vaccinated animals reduces the risk of a human becoming infected with the rabies virus.

If you have been exposed to the rabies virus or have been bitten by an animal with an unknown vaccine status, steps can be taken to prevent infection with the virus. The first step is to wash the wound with soap and water, detergent or iodine for 15 minutes. Seek medical attention immediately. Your physician will determine the best course of action depending on your level of exposure. This may involve vaccination for rabies virus and administration of rabies virus antibodies. According to the World Health Organization every year more than 15 million people worldwide receive a post-exposure preventive regimen to avert the disease - this is estimated to prevent 327 000 rabies deaths annually.

In conclusion, the rabies virus can cause fatal disease that can have a devastating impact on the human, pet and wildlife population. Vaccinating pets has been effective in reducing the prevalence of rabies in pets and therefore decreasing the incidence of rabies in humans. For more information on rabies virus and other animal diseases, please refer to  or or