A conversation I had with a client last week got me thinking. He was relaying to me an encounter that he had with Rabies. His dog had gotten into a fight with a raccoon that was later found to be positive for the virus. When consulting with his veterinarian at the time and describing to her how he washed the raccoon slobber off of his dog, he was startled by his veterinarian’s response. She said, “I’m not worried about your dog. Your dog is vaccinated. I am worried about you!” The slobber he exposed himself to on his dog may have been loaded with Rabies virus. Then he shared the rather painful and lengthy post-exposure treatment his Doctor put him through. The details included shots in the arm and rear. Many, many shots and LOTS of pain.
That story reminded me of Rabies near misses among my own circle of friends and family. My daughter was in band for years and the band camp was closed one summer due to a rabid bat find. She had mentioned the big cabin had bats flying in and out and we thought it was pretty cool! Another close friend (and veterinarian) had to take her family through a less traumatic post-exposure treatment after a bat got into their Upper Arlington home. They never did figure out how it got inside. Powell, Ohio has had bats test positive for Rabies. I don’t want to pick on bats, they are a super valuable part of the ecosystem. We also have risks from other wildlife that frequent our neighborhoods in Powell, Dublin, Worthington, Lewis Center, Upper Arlington, Columbus, Delaware, and throughout Central Ohio, such as skunks, raccoons, coyotes, and foxes.
A trend in recent years is for cats to see the veterinarian LESS often, even as cat ownership is at an all-time high (just visit the internet to confirm this love of cats). There are a lot of reasons given for why cats don’t see the vet. Some common ones heard are: the cat doesn’t like to come, they put up a fuss, it’s stressful (for all parties involved!) There is the perception that a cat is protected from Rabies exposure as long as it is doesn’t go outside and all dogs living in the house are vaccinated. Wrong.
So what would happen if an unvaccinated cat caught a rabid bat that got into the house? The legal recommendation may shock you, so be sure your kids are not reading this. Immediate euthanasia is option one. Option 2 is six months of strict isolation (only essential human exposure). See this paragraph from the Ohio Administrative Code 3701-3-29:
Dogs, cats, ferrets not currently vaccinated against the rabies virus or when vaccination cannot be verified shall be humanely killed; or if sufficient justification for preserving the animal exists, the dog, cat, ferret shall be quarantined in strict isolation under an order issued by the health commissioner of the health district in which the bite was inflicted. Isolation in this context refers to confinement in an enclosure that precludes direct contact with people and other animals. In all cases, said quarantine shall be under the supervision of the health commissioner and shall be at the expense of the owner or harborer. Any signs of illness in the dog, cat, or ferret must be reported immediately to the health commissioner. The quarantine period shall be for not less than six months. The dog, cat, or ferret shall be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed doctor of veterinary medicine upon entry into quarantine and/or one month before the end of the quarantine period required by this paragraph.
If your cat or someone you know has a cat that is currently overdue for vaccines, please educate them on the risks. This is serious stuff. A call to our staff can help with strategies to reduce the stress associated with car rides and carriers. Once in our office the staff will do everything they can to make the visit calm. Hey- all this goes for dogs too- but it is currently cats who seem to be flying under the radar when it comes to needed veterinary care.