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Minnesota Veterinary Hospital Blog

Rabies - The Impact In Your Backyard


September 28th marks World Rabies Day, so now seems a good time to investigate what this illness is, why it is so serious, and the threat it can pose to your own pets.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a virus that is primarily passed from mammal to mammal via saliva. There are three distinct phases: 

  • The prodromal stage occurs immediately following infection, and lasts for two to three days. Behavioral changes are common during this time. 
  • The excitable stage is perhaps the most well-known, and is responsible for the use of the term “rabid” in general lexicon. During this stage, an infected animal will become aggressive and is prone to biting. 
  • The paralytic stage is exactly what you would expect it to be, given the name. Damage to motor neurons causes paralysis, the inability to swallow, and eventually death due to respiratory failure.

The latter point is particularly important: rabies is a fatal disease in almost every case. Some human cases have been cured, but even then, the success rates are extremely low.

What can you do about rabies?

While rabies is a terrifying illness, you do have a measure of control: the rabies vaccine. The vaccine has proven to be hugely successful, and its efficacy is directly attributable to why the number of domestic pet infections is so low. 

It’s important to note that rabies itself is not rare. Many wild animals, such as bats and raccoons, continue to develop rabies at a frightening rate. The virus is still in the world, and can still infect domestic pets if they encounter an infected animal - but the vaccine has helped to ensure infection rates from wild to domestic animals is tightly controlled. In the cases where rabies does develop in domestic pets, the domestic pet in question has not been vaccinated - it really is that cut and dried. 

As a result, it is advisable to use World Rabies Day as an opportunity to check your pet’s vaccination records. Even if your pet has been vaccinated against rabies in the past, they may be due a "booster". If you’re not sure of your pet’s previous vaccination record, our Minnesota Veterinary Hospital veterinarian experts will be more than happy to discuss your options in more detail. 

In addition to checking vaccination records, World Rabies Day is also a great reminder to check your backyard and install measures to prevent potentially-rabid animals from entering your property. While vaccination means that your pets are protected against catching the virus, rabid animals are still dangerous due to the excitable phase, as well as posing a threat to unvaccinated humans.

It’s worth looking around your garden and checking the perimeter for any gaps that wild animals could enter through, with a particular focus on closing spaces that would be large enough for raccoons. Raccoons are a particular concern for rabies, as demonstrated by a recent case where 21 people were treated for rabies following an encounter with a baby raccoon. Yes, raccoons are incredibly cute, but they’re not a welcome presence in your backyard. Simple steps, such as not leaving food scraps in your yard and enclosing the perimeter, can ensure there will be no encounters with a rabid raccoon in your future.

In conclusion

Take the time to mark World Rabies Day by checking your pet’s vaccination records and securing your yard against wild animals, with a special focus on deterring raccoons. 

Image credit: Pixabay