Rabies Protection for Your Pet and Family
Rabies is a global health menace that strikes close to home. Here are practical tips for keeping yourself, your children, and your pets safe.
Rabies is a huge – and growing – health concern around the globe. In developed countries where vaccination of pets is enforced, the problem has more to do with wild animals. In developing countries, rabies is spread most often by unvaccinated domestic animals, like dogs that are allowed to roam streets or neighborhoods on their own.
Characteristics of rabid animals
Because rabies is incurable and fatal if not treated in time, it is crucial to prevent exposure to rabid animals. These animals usually exhibit unusual or abnormal behavior; they may look sick, drool, stagger, appear restless, be aggressive, or seem to be choking. Other things to watch out for:
- Bold, friendly, or tame wild animals
- Night animals, like skunks and foxes, that are seen in the daytime
- Pets that have difficulty walking, eating, or drinking
- Signs of excitement or viciousness in normally quiet animals
- Animals that tear at or scratch an old wound until it bleeds
- Cattle that "strain" for long periods
- Bats that are unable to fly
Here are reminders to avoid animal bites that could lead to rabies infection for you and your family.
Stay away from stray animals
Animals from the wild are a major source of rabies for pets and other domestic animals, which in turn may pass the infection to humans.
- Keep away from stray dogs and other unfamiliar animals. Refrain from feeding or handling them, no matter how friendly or sick they look.
- Don’t touch dead animals. The rabies virus may still be present in their saliva or nervous tissue, especially if they have just died. If you have to handle them, wear gloves.
- Enjoy wild animals from a distance. If you are at a zoo, camp, or wildlife area, avoid any direct contact with the animals, especially bats, skunks, raccoons, and foxes. Don’t adopt or take wild animals into your home.
- If you suspect that any contact has occurred, get medical advice immediately. Some animals, such as bats, may bite without you feeling it, or while you are asleep.
- When traveling abroad, be wary of animals, especially dogs in developing countries, where rabies is common.
- Call animal control to remove any strays from your neighborhood since these animals may be unvaccinated or ill.
Keep pets rabies free
Pet owners are responsible for keeping their pets protected from the rabies virus.
- Take your pets for their yearly rabies shot. A veterinarian can make sure their vaccines are up to date.
- Get your pet spayed or neutered. Neutered dogs are calmer, healthier and less aggressive. They also won’t give birth to unwanted puppies that may have to live in harsh environments and grow up aggressive or unsociable.
- Keep your pets indoors or in a fenced yard. If your dog goes outside, make sure you or another adult is there to watch over it. Keep it on a leash so it won't come into contact with a rabid animal.
- Do not put water or food for your pets outside and keep garbage cans securely covered. These items may attract wild animals or stray animals to your yard.
- If your pet is attacked or bitten by another animal, report the incident to the health or animal control authorities. Be sure your vaccinated pet gets a booster shot.
Protect children from rabies
As soon as they are old enough to understand, inform your children about rabies and teach them to follow these rules:
- Never handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. Stray cats and dogs may not have been vaccinated.
- Never try to separate fighting animals.
- Don't disturb an animal that is sleeping, eating, or nursing its young.
- Tell you or another adult straight away when they have been hurt by any type of animal, even if it doesn't look ill.
If someone gets bitten, stay calm. Administer first aid by washing the wound thoroughly with soap and lots of water, then get medical help immediately. Rabies rarely occurs if preventive treatment starts immediately.
Disclaimer: This article is meant only to provide information and is not intended to replace advice from licensed healthcare professionals.
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