You may have heard your pet should have the rabies vaccine, but how much do you know about it? Our Sacramento vets discuss why the rabies vaccinehould be administered to cats and dogs, when and how often, potential side effects and other facts about these dog and cat vaccinations.
What is rabies?
Caused by the Lyssavirus, rabies is a fatal viral disease that can infect all mammals, including cats, canines (dogs and coyotes), foxes, raccoons, skunks, bats and people.
The disease is transmitted through bites or scratches from rabid animals, through saliva or the mucous membranes, and impacts the nervous system specifically.
While canine and feline rabies has been mostly eradicated across the United States, an infected animal can still infect other cats, dogs, horses, domestic animals and people.
There are five types of rabies found in the canine (dogs and coyotes), skunk, raccoon, fox and bat populations, and all of these are contagious to dogs and cats. They are almost always fatal once symptoms start.
Depending on the age of the animal bitten, how far the bite is from the nervous system and the dose of the virus introduced to the body, the incubation period of rabies (how long it takes for symptoms to show) is highly variable.
Generally, the incubation period is between 3 to 8 weeks for most domestic species. However, this can be as short as 9 days or as long as a year or more. The virus attacks and replicates within the nervous system, triggering the clinical signs of rabies.
There are two forms of rabies: the excitatory form (also known as the "furious" stage) and the paralytic form (sometimes called the "dumb stage"). Symptoms can vary and not all animals experience both stages.
Symptoms of rabies may include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Uncharacteristic aggression, fearfulness or even affection
- Excessive drooling
- Barking or meowing differently
- Loss of balance when walking
- Partial or complete paralysis
- Overreaction to sound, touch or light
- Biting at the site where they were exposed to the virus
Once your pet has become infected with rabies, there is nothing a veterinarian can offer to treat the disease. Euthanasia and quarantine are the only options.
Rabies typically leads to death within 3 to 8 days of symptoms appearing. While there is no cure or treatment for the disease, the good news is that it can be easily prevented by ensuring your dog or cat gets rabies shots.
Why should I vaccinate my pet against rabies?
Ensuring your pet's rabies vaccine is kept up to date is part of responsible pet ownership. The vaccine protects your pets, other animals and people in your household against this lethal neurological disease.
Most states and municipalities also have local rules and regulations that legislate pet vaccination requirements. Your veterinarian can provide more information on these.
When and how often should my pet have the rabies vaccine?
The rabies vaccine is a core vaccine, which means it is recommended for every pet, while your veterinarian may recommend non-core vaccines depending on your pet's lifestyle. For example, your vet may advise you to have your pet receive certain non-core vaccination if they spend a significant amount of time outdoors or in boarding facilities.
Your puppy or kitten should receive the rabies vaccine for the first time, and their subsequent booster shots, at specific times. Here is our recommended rabies vaccine schedule for dogs and cats in Sacramento.
Cats and dogs should receive their first dose of the rabies vaccine between 14 and 16 weeks of age, then a second after one year. A booster should be administered every three years.
What are side effects of the rabies vaccine?'
Due to the fact that the rabies vaccine stimulates the immune system, your cat or dog may experience some minor side effects. These may include:
- Mild fever
- Mild loss of appetite
- Mild to moderate energy loss for 24 to 36 hours following vaccination
- Potential soreness or swelling at the injection site
Some pets may develop a small, painless swelling at the injection site that can last for a couple of weeks. Rarely, a small, circular area of hair loss may develop.
If your pet does experience side effects due to the rabies vaccine, they'll typically start within an hour of vaccination and disappear within a day or two. Remember that some pets won't experience any side effects at all due to the rabies vaccine.
Severe reactions to the rabies vaccine are rare and typically occur due to an over-reaction of the immune system. Serious side effects generally happen immediately or within one to two hours of vaccination.
Can my pet get rabies if they are vaccinated?
The rabies vaccine is very effective. Pets that have been vaccinated rarely become infected.
Pet Vaccinations at Elkhorn-Walerga Animal Hospital
Our veterinarians administer core and non-core pet vaccines at our clinic in Sacramento.
Cat and dog vaccinations are an important part of your pet's preventive healthcare routine and are essential to protect your pet from several serious, contagious diseases. Your Sacramento vet can recommend core and non-core vaccines based on your pet's needs and lifestyle.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.