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Pet Wise: Rabies represents a continued threat in Carroll County, even in 2019

Today’s column was a collaborative project for which I send my heartfelt thanks to Dr. Laura Owens for researching and providing valuable information regarding this dreaded disease.

One of the best things about living in Carroll County is that we are surrounded by nature. However, the abundant wildlife in our region puts our beloved pets at risk for a potentially deadly viral disease called rabies. It is easy to think that our own pets are at low risk for this disease, but according to the Maryland Department of Health, there were 268 laboratory confirmed cases of rabies in Maryland last year and 17 of these cases were from Carroll County. From January through August 2019 a total of 183 laboratory confirmed cases of rabies occurred in Maryland.

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Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the nervous system in warm-blooded animals can be spread between humans and animals. The rabies virus lives in in the saliva of infected animals and can be transmitted through a bite, a scratch, or by a lick in an open wound, the eye or the mouth according to the Carroll County Health Department. Rabies causes paralysis and changes in behavior, and is almost always fatal once the symptoms appear. Wild animals may act friendly and pets can act aggressive Other symptoms, including paralysis of the throat and jaw causing drooling and seizures, are common according to the Maryland Department of Health’s Rabies Fact Sheet. In Maryland, foxes, raccoons, skunks, cats, and bats are the most common species to spread rabies, although all warm-blooded animals can carry the disease like sheep, cattle, goats, and ferrets and groundhogs.

According to Joe Mancuso, the rabies coordinator for the Carroll County Health Department, “Rabies is endemic (common) in the wildlife population in our area. This can cause a problem when our pets come into contact with wild animals.” A local veterinarian experienced this firsthand when a rabid raccoon came into her house through the cat door in her basement. The raccoon bit her dog, attacked her cat, and her husband and son were both bitten when trying to get the raccoon out of the house. Fortunately, the pets were up to date on their rabies vaccines and the Carroll County Health Department followed up with the case and both the husband and son were also vaccinated. This example is one of many cases where indoor pets are exposed to rabies, and it illustrates the importance of keeping pets up to date on this vaccine.

The State of Maryland requires that dogs, cats, and ferrets be vaccinated against rabies by four months of age, and receive booster shots according to the vaccine label instructions. The first rabies vaccine is generally recognized as a 1-year vaccine, and additional vaccines vary between 1 and 3 years. Vaccines are also available for horses, cattle, and sheep.

If you are unsure of your pet’s rabies vaccination status, Dr. Owens recommends that you contact your veterinarian who can provide information regarding when your pet is due for a rabies booster.

The Maryland Department of Health’s Rabies Fact Sheet recommends the following measures that pet owners can take to prevent exposure to rabies:

· Do not approach, handle, or feed wild or stray animals.

· Have your dogs, cats, and ferrets vaccinated against rabies and keep the vaccinations up-to-date.

· Do not leave pets outside unattended or allow them to roam free.

· Cover garbage cans tightly and do not leave pet food outside; this may attract wild and stray animals.

· Teach children to stay away from wild animals or animals that they do not know.

· Prevent bats from entering your home by using window screens and chimney caps and by closing any openings greater than ¼ inch by ½ inch. Bats found in the home should be safely collected, if possible, and tested for rabies.

· Wear gloves when handling an animal if it has been in a fight with another animal. Keep it away from people and other animals and call your veterinarian or local Health Department to report animal exposure

⋅Remove and close off dog and cat doors to prevent unwanted creatures from entering your home!

Rabies vaccination clinic

On Sunday, Sept. 15, the Carroll County Health Department will be conducting a rabies vaccination clinic at the Carroll County Agriculture Center from 2-4 p.m. Rabies vaccines cost $7 per pet. Dogs, cats and ferrets are welcome! The next rabies clinic will take place in the spring.

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Iris Katz serves as a member of the board of directors and as an educational facilitator for the Humane Society of Carroll County. Her column appears on the third Sunday of the month.

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