Rabies sometimes seems like a thing of the past; something that only once plagued our animal companions in the days of old. Humans have known about the rabies virus since about 2000 B.C. and it has been recorded throughout history in laws, reports, and journals. Once rampant, rabies has become more controlled thanks to the rabies vaccination discovered in 1885. Through public education programs and vaccination laws, rabies is now much rarer than in the days of Old Yeller. However, because it is so much more uncommon in the US, pet owners have started to question the need for rabies vaccinations for their pets. The truth is rabies could be lurking in your backyard and can even make its way into your home. Consistent and regular vaccination is absolutely still relevant for keeping rabies cases low and keeping your pet protected!
Skunks and bats are the most common carriers of the rabies virus in Minnesota. This year alone, there have been 29 identified cases of rabies, consisting of 23 bats, five skunks, and a cow. The majority of cases have been located around the Twin Cities area. You can learn more about the details with this interactive map: https://www.bah.state.mn.us/rabies/#rabies-map
In the fall months, bats begin their hibernation season and often look for cozy caves to wait out the brutal winter months. In metropolitan cities, these comfortable caves are often found in the form of chimneys and attics of residential buildings.
Imagine this scenario. You wake up to a strange noise coming from the living room. Your cat is curiously following a little brown blob around the room – inquisitively pawing it. You look closer and discover that the blob is a bat. It is not flying, and you are unsure if it has been injured by your cat or sick. You trap it under a box and call local authorities for help. The bat is transported to Minnesota State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and is found to have the rabies virus. Your cat has been exposed and could have potentially been bitten.
Or imagine this scenario: You are out hiking with your best pal. After hearing a rustling in the bushes, your dog takes off in search of the noise. A skunk appears – but instead of running away it stumbles around and seems drunk. Seeing the opportunity to make a kill or make a new friend, your dog bounds after the skunk and is bitten. The skunk is tested for rabies and is positive.
In both scenarios, pets who have been consistently vaccinated will simply need a trip to the vet for a booster shot and to have their bite tended to. Pets that have had an inconsistent vaccination schedule may not be so lucky, and pets with no history of a rabies vaccination are at very high risk for contracting rabies. Rabies is fatal, and unvaccinated pets should be humanely euthanized if exposed.
Vaccination is the best way to keep your pet safe from rabies. Avoid any type of potential exposure by bat-proofing your home, keeping your pet leashed while outside, and closely monitoring your surroundings. Most rabid bats are typically found on the ground and appear to not be able to fly, making them easy targets for curious felines and canines. Other signs of rabies in wild animals include excessive drooling, fearless type behavior, and aggression.
As guardians of our feline and canine companions, it is our duty to protect them to the best of our ability. Give your local veterinarian a call today to make sure your pet is up to date on their rabies vaccination!