For most Americans, rabies is not an imminent threat, but worldwide, rabies is estimated to kill 55,000 humans annually. Over 99% of human cases are caused by the bite of a rabid dog. Most cases of human rabies occur in Asia and Africa where rabies vaccination of dogs to prevent human exposure to the rabies virus is beyond the financial scope of these country’s public health system.
Despite the lost cost and ready availability of a rabies vaccine for both dogs and cats in the United States, not all states require rabies vaccines in pets. There are 12 states that do not require rabies vaccinations for dogs and 20 that do not require rabies vaccinations for cats. Rabies has been on the decline in dogs since the early 1990’s. The lower number of states requiring feline rabies vaccinations may explain why the nationwide data for 2008 reports 294 rabies positive cats and only 75 rabies positive dogs.
Rabies vaccination is successful in controlling the spread of this deadly disease. Case in point is New York City, where the canine vaccination requirement has resulted in a city free of canine rabies for over 50 years. Although rabies vaccination is required for New York City cats, 12 cats have tested positive for rabies since feline rabies surveillance started in 1992, mirroring the increase in feline rabies nationwide. Despite the success in vaccinating pet against rabies, New York City is currently experiencing an increase in rabies in raccoons and coyotes in our large parks. Rabid wildlife and rabid feral cats pose a risk to the public since it is hard to resist feeding and petting animals in the park if they appear friendly.
Rabies prevention starts with the pet owner. When your cat or dog makes its annual wellness visit to the veterinarian, ask if a rabies vaccine is appropriate for your pet. Veterinarians consider rabies vaccination a ‘core’ vaccine. This means the vaccination is critical to protecting the health of the pet and the pet’s family. Very few pets will not be given the ‘core’ vaccines. Your family veterinarian is the person to advise you on the laws regarding rabies in your state and the need for your pet to be vaccinated against rabies.
For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.