Rabies is a fatal viral infection of the neurological system that can still challenge a veterinary neurosurgeon. It affects warm-blooded mammals, meaning it can infect many household pets, though getting infected is rare. Rabies is not a new disease as the first confirmed case of animal rabies was in 1898, but there is still much we do not understand about it. A veterinary neurological center and their specialists can diagnose this disease, but considering the generality and range of symptoms exhibited by infected animals, diagnosis is challenging.
In animals, rabies is almost invariably fatal. Prevention is crucial, but we will discuss this in further detail after elaborating more on the disease itself. The disease is caused by a virus that quickly spreads to a pet’s nervous system and, later, to their salivary glands for spread to other hosts. An infected wild animal can bite and infect a pet. Hosts can also be infected if the saliva of an infected animal contaminates an open wound, mouth, or eyes, making diagnosis even more difficult.
Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can spread from animal species to human beings. People who have been bitten by animals carrying the disease can receive emergency treatment that prevents the infection from taking hold in the body of the person. Unfortunately, a veterinary neurosurgeon cannot do the same for pets. The virus will spread through the nervous system of the pet and cause Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), and the patient will begin to display erratic behavior.
How to tell if an animal has rabies?
Unvaccinated cats and dogs can spread the virus causing rabies. Wild animals, like skunks, bats, coyotes, and raccoons, can transmit it. In the US, most cases of infection reported contact with a wild animal, making prevention all the more necessary. Infected animals begin displaying behavioral changes after some time, but clinical signs are widely different in each individual. Some animals develop an aversion to light, known as photophobia, and others are scared by water to the point of not even drinking the liquid. Your pet may have dilated pupils, low-grade fever, or they may become fearful, depressed, and even uncharacteristically aggressive.
The range of these symptoms, and the variable incubation period (how long the infection takes to develop symptoms), make it very hard for professionals and pet owners to diagnose rabies. Some pet owners might just be concerned that their pet is not acting quite like themselves, and veterinarian neurologists might consider various diseases like tetanus. Taking your pet to a veterinary neurosurgeon after they show these symptoms may not help your pet fully recover from this disease, leaving only the option for supportive care.
Your veterinary neurosurgeon recommends prevention
The risks are significantly reduced if you vaccinate your pet against rabies. Avoiding contact with wild animals is also crucial. Vaccines against rabies are highly effective. Dogs should receive their first vaccine within the first 3 months after birth, they should receive a second dose 12 months after the first one, and a booster dose every 3 years. Cats have different physiologies, but they too should receive doses within their first 3 months after birth, 12 months after the first dose, and a booster dose every 3 years.
Here in the state of California, these immunizations are mandated by law. All cats and dogs over 4 months old must have received their first vaccination against rabies. You can take your pet to a California-licensed veterinarian to receive the immunization. Please consider that immunization is achieved after 30 days of receiving the injection, so pay special attention to your pet during that time and continue to avoid contact with wild animals even after they have reached proper immunization.
If your cat is currently undergoing another treatment that prevents them from being immunized, a local health officer can issue an exemption, but your pet will have to be immunized following the completion of their treatment. Consult with a veterinary neurosurgeon on how to comply with this
Protecting your pet and your community
We cannot emphasize this enough: risks are significantly reduced when you vaccinate your pets against rabies. Limiting exposure to wildlife will also help your pet, but considering there is no treatment to help a patient recover from rabies, prevention is of paramount importance. Companion animals also receive this vaccination to protect them and the families they help. Because rabies can be spread from animals to humans, you should also consider that vaccinating your pet protects them, your family, and your neighbors.
As a veterinary neurological center, we would love to help any pet infected with rabies to overcome it, but because such treatment does not exist, we are committed to doing the next best thing: helping our community prevent rabies infections.