Rabies in North Carolina

Dr. Bridget Andersen

The Rabies virus is an uncommon, yet deadly disease that can be spread from animal to animal or from animal to human.  With the emphasis placed on Rabies vaccination within the pet community in the last 50 years, the United States has been highly effective in decreasing the number of Rabies cases in domestic animals per year.   Before 1960, the majority of cases reported were in domestic animals.   Now more than 90% of cases occur in wildlife –specifically bats, raccoons, foxes, and skunks.  Most of us are not brave enough to tangle with the raccoon in the trash can, however, the majority of our dogs and cats are not so fearful.   On emergency shifts, I see several cases per year of indoor dogs with bite wounds suffered from defending the home from raccoons and cats with bite wounds sustained while trying to protect their food dish.  And while the bites and scratches are not always life threatening themselves, these cases end up being very sad nonetheless when those pets are overdue on their Rabies vaccinations.

In North Carolina we take Rabies very seriously.  The virus is still nearly 100% fatal once infected.  If your domestic pet presents to the hospital for treatment from a bite wound from wildlife, and is not up to date on its vaccines, it will very likely need to be placed in quarantine for 10 days to 6 months depending on the situation.  Not only is this devastating for the pet because quarantine means in a cage, in a facility equipt for quarantine, with no human contact, but it can be devastating financially as well.  Sometimes Animal Control is able to provide quarantine, but if they are full then it must be performed at an approved veterinary hospital and can cost over $4000.  The majority of people that I have helped in these situations cannot afford or bear the thought of quarentine and have elected to euthanize.  I hate these cases the most because the likelihood of your pet contracting rabies is very low, but the consequences of your pet developing Rabies, and then infecting you, is devastating and unacceptable.   For this reason, even the smallest bite to the most loved pet who is just days overdue is treated in this very serious manner.   There is no reason to put you pet at risk for contracting this disease or being placed in quarantine.  The vaccination is inexpensive, has a low risk of side effects, and is almost 100% effective in preventing infections.