As a veterinarian, I’m often asked why we recommend vaccinating for rabies when it “doesn’t exist” on Vancouver Island. When recommending vaccines in general, there are a few key factors we take into consideration including:
- Your pet’s overall health and age
- Your pet’s lifestyle
- Future travelling plans with your pet
- Potential risk factors
When it comes to rabies, there are particular reasons why we recommend vaccinating, even for pet’s who only live out their days in the Comox Valley.
Rabies is a viral disease that exists worldwide and is transmitted by bite wounds or saliva. It affects the nervous system of mammals, including humans. Humans can contract the rabies virus from a dog or cat. Once symptoms start to show, death is certain. Although the prevalence is low, rabies is present in the bat population on Vancouver Island (<1%) and in the rest of BC. We thankfully don’t have rabies in racoons, skunks or foxes like the rest of Canada. However, there is still a risk, as illustrated in 2003 when a BC resident died of rabies from contact with a rabid (infected) bat. It’s a serious and deadly disease that can affect both pets and people, which is one of the reasons we often bring it to your attention.
In addition, if your travel plans include bringing your pet to a higher risk area within Canada or across an international border, an up to date rabies vaccine is required. The first vaccine which is good for 1 year can be given as early as 3 months, although we usually wait until 4 months of age. After the 1 year booster, the rabies vaccine is valid for 3 years. It is also important to know that in order to cross an international border; the rabies vaccine needs to be given greater than 30 days prior to travel, meaning that a last minute jaunt to Seattle might not be possible if your cat or dog isn’t up to date on vaccines.
Another serious reason for discussing rabies vaccination is that should your animal ever bite someone, you could be asked to provide proof of rabies vaccination. Many bite wounds in people are not the result of an aggressive animal, but typically an animal that feels cornered or suffers from anxiety and whose warnings to ‘stay away’ have been ignored. In fact, most bite wounds involve children who are too young to understand a dog or cat’s body language telling them to stop. In these scenarios, if your pet is not up to date on its rabies vaccination, you may be asked to quarantine your pet. This can be a stressful time for both the pet and pet owner which could have been avoided had your pet been vaccinated against rabies.
Prevention is the best medicine, and by keeping your pets’ rabies vaccination up to date, you are helping to keep the prevalence of rabies in our beautiful area of Canada low.
Submitted by Dr. Alana Parisi – Van Isle Veterinary Hospital.