Rabies is considered a core vaccine, meaning that it should be given to all dogs and cats no matter what their lifestyle is. State law also requires Rabies vaccinations for all dogs and cats in New York. The following should serve to better describe this disease, why we vaccinate against it and explain why your NYC dog or cat could be at risk.
The Rabies vaccine is first given to puppies and kittens around 3 months of age (12 weeks). A booster is then given one year later, and thereafter, a Rabies vaccine should be administered every 3 years to adult dogs. Adult cats receive Rabies vaccine boosters every 1-3 years depending on the type of vaccine used.
Rabies is a virus that affects the central nervous system of mammals. Symptoms of Rabies in an animal include fever, excessive salivation, behavior change, muscle spasms and paralysis. In the early stages of the disease, wild animals may become unusually tame or less fearful of humans, while domestic animals may become more aggressive. The infected animal will then become progressively more sick and death occurs within 10 days.
The Rabies virus is typically spread from an infected animal to a pet via bite wounds. However, transmission can occur from direct contact of infected saliva with mucous membranes (i.e. mouth, nose or eyes). The most common animals that spread the Rabies virus to domestic animals and humans in this country are the skunk, bat, raccoon, fox and coyote. Fortunately for us in New York City, many smaller mammals, such as rats, mice and squirrels, are unlikely to be infected with the Rabies virus. Rabies has been found in animals in all five boroughs, with the majority of these animals being raccoons. However, stray cats in the area have also tested positive for the Rabies virus.
Despite advancements in modern medical care, Rabies remains nearly untreatable, especially once symptoms develop. Animals exposed to this virus will typically become sick within one to three months. However, in some cases it can take up to one year after exposure for a dog to become sick with the disease. Once symptoms appear, the affected animal declines rapidly and the virus eventually results in death.
Because humans can also be exposed to the Rabies virus by infected wildlife or pets, the disease poses a significant public health concern. This is why vaccinating all dogs and cats is mandatory by law in New York State. It is also important that any animal bites are reported to the correct authorities. If a dog or cat bites you, contact the NYC Health Department. If a wild animal bites your dog or cat, call 311 to arrange for capture and testing of the animal. In this situation, it’s also important to call your veterinarian so that we can give a Rabies booster to your animal. In both of these cases the pet will need to be quarantined, either at home or at a veterinary hospital, to be sure it does not show symptoms of Rabies.