Rabies in Animals
Descriptions of rabies go back thousands of years as rabies has classically been one of the most
feared infections of all time. It is because of this fear that dog ownership requires a license and
documentation of rabies vaccination. There is still no reliably effective treatment for rabies
infection once symptoms have started.
The virus does not survive outside of the infected host very long, so direct contact with fresh
secretions is required for transmission. In most cases, disease is transmitted via a bite wound and
it is mostly wildlife that gets infected. When wildlife starts coming into contact with the pet
population, then pets become infected and when pets get infected, human infection is not far
behind. Because this infection has nearly 100% mortality, preventing it in pets becomes crucial
to preventing it in people. Of course, people can get infected by wildlife contact as well. Despite
vaccination being readily available, every year the U.S. reports approximately 50 canine deaths,
250 feline deaths, and several human deaths from rabies. Worldwide, some 55,000 human deaths
occur annually from rabies even now in the 21st century.
The most common wildlife species to spread rabies to domestic animals and humans in the
Northern Hemisphere are skunks, bats, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes. Wildlife (especially bats)
are able to gain access to indoor areas where they can come in close contact with both pets and
people. Indoor pets are not without risk.
Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP
Veterinary Partner, VIN