Do you think rabies has nothing to do with you and your dog or cat? You’re wrong. While the disease itself is now (thankfully) quite rare in people and pets in the United States, it is still extremely important.
A new edition of the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control has just been released and it contains some updated recommendations with regards to protocols to be followed when a pet bites a person or when a pet is bitten by a rabid or potentially rabid animal. To paraphrase:
Regardless of rabies vaccination status, a healthy dog or cat that bites a person should be confined and observed daily for symptoms consistent with rabies infection for 10 days from the time of the exposure.
Dogs and cats that have never been vaccinated and are exposed to a rabid animal should be euthanized immediately. If the owner is unwilling to have this done, the animal should receive a rabies vaccination and be placed in strict isolation for 4 months. Isolation in this context refers to confinement in an enclosure that precludes direct contact with people and other animals.
Dogs and cats that are overdue for a booster vaccination and without appropriate documentation of having received a USDA-licensed rabies vaccine at least once previously should be treated as an unvaccinated individual (see above). Alternatively, the dog or cat can undergo serologic monitoring for a response to rabies vaccination that indicates the animal has been previously vaccinated. If serology indicates no previous vaccination, the dog or cat should be treated as an unvaccinated individual (see above). If serology provides evidence for a previous rabies vaccination, the dog or cat can be treated as an overdue but previously vaccinated individual (see below).
Dogs and cats that are overdue for a booster vaccination and that have appropriate documentation of having received a USDA-licensed rabies vaccine at least once previously should receive a booster rabies vaccination and be kept under the owner’s control and observed for 45 days.
Dogs and cats that are current on rabies vaccination should receive a booster rabies vaccination and be kept under the owner’s control and observed for 45 days.
The Compendium holds a lot of sway, but it is not the definitive word on what happens to a dog or cat after biting a person or after exposure to a rabid animal. Those decisions are made and enforced at the state and local levels. A new website under development, RabiesAware.org, will provide owners and veterinarians with a lot of good information, like state-specific answers to the following “frequently asked questions” about rabies:
Which species are required to be vaccinated against rabies?
Who is legally authorized to administer a rabies vaccine?
What are the medical record requirements for rabies vaccination?
What are the age requirements for rabies vaccination?
Following the initial rabies dose, when is an animal legally immunized?
What are the state importation requirements for rabies vaccination?
Can a 3-year rabies vaccine be substituted for a 1-year vaccine?
“Overdue” for rabies vaccine booster…
Can a rabies antibody titer be used to establish “immunity?”
What constitutes rabies “exposure” in a pet?
What are the consequences of rabies “exposure” in a pet?
What are the consequence for a pet that bites a human?
Can a veterinarian exempt rabies vaccination requirements?
At what age can rabies vaccination be discontinued?
Is rabies vaccination of hybrid species recognized or allowed?