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For Release: July 27, 2010
Contact: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Proper Vaccination Protects Your Pets from Rabies

If you have companion animals such as dogs or cats, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reminds you that vaccinating them against rabies is crucial for the protection of your animals as well as you and your family. Thus far this year, 40 cases of animal rabies have been reported in Oklahoma.

“Although most rabies cases in Oklahoma occur in skunks, most human exposures to rabies result from contact to unvaccinated pets or livestock that become rabid following an encounter with a rabid wild animal,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley.  “Vaccinating your pets may have the added benefit of protecting your family from exposure to rabies and avoid the costly and uncomfortable process of receiving post-exposure shots.”

 Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system and is almost always fatal once symptoms of the disease have started. Rabies virus is found in the brain, spinal cord and saliva of infected animals and is transmitted through a bite or opening in the skin or mucous membrane (eyes, nose, or mouth). 

Oklahoma rules and regulations require that a veterinarian vaccinate dogs, cats, and ferrets against rabies by the time the animal is 4 months of age. The interval between rabies vaccination boosters ranges from one to three years and will depend upon the age of the animal, type of vaccine administered, and city licensing codes. Rabies vaccines labeled for use in horses, sheep, and cattle are also available and recommended for show animals and all valuable breeding stock.

If an animal bites a person and the animal is a dog, cat, or ferret not owned by the bite victim, and is not currently vaccinated, it must be quarantined with a licensed

veterinarian for 10 days. If the animal remains healthy for 10 days, it is proof that the biting animal was not infectious with rabies at the time the bite occurred, so no rabies shots are needed for the person who was bitten.  If another type of animal caused the bite, the local county health department should be contacted.

If it is necessary to euthanize and test a biting animal or an animal exhibiting symptoms of rabies, the brain tissue should be sent to the State Public Health Laboratory.  In order to conduct rabies testing, however, the brain tissues must be intact. It is important to remember not to shoot the animal in the head or crush the skull of the animal in order to achieve the best testing results. Also, the brain tissue must be kept refrigerated and stored in a cooler with ice packs during transport to prevent decomposition.

Recently, the Oklahoma State Department of Health notified health care providers and pharmacists of a change in the recommended post-exposure treatment protocol for healthy persons not previously immunized against rabies. Federal guidelines now recommend four doses of vaccine rather than the previously recommended five doses for persons exposed to an animal that has tested positive for rabies. When status of the biting animal is unknown, consultation with public health officials is advised.

 In addition to vaccinating pets, owners should also keep their dogs and cats close to home to reduce contact with other animals. Outdoor dogs should be kenneled, or kept within a fenced-in yard. Cats should be kept indoors as much as possible and not allowed to roam freely at night to cut down on possible exposure to rabid animals. Parents should teach their children to never handle wild animals, or approach unfamiliar dogs or cats.

If you suspect your animals have been exposed to rabies, immediately contact your local county health department or your veterinarian. For more information on rabies, visit the Oklahoma State Department of Health Web site at www.health.ok.gov.

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