Rabies: An Ancient Disease, Still Important Today

September 24, 2014

World Rabies Day logoRabies is an ancient and universally feared disease. The first known description of rabies occurred before 2300 BC in Egypt. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, wrote about rabies around 350 BC. Louis Pasteur developed the first successful rabies vaccine in the late 1800s and widespread vaccination programs have greatly decreased rabies in domestic animals; although wild animals continue to be a reservoir for rabies in the United States.

Still Important Today
Despite the development of excellent and safe vaccines against rabies, every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, a person dies of rabies, most of them children. The majority of cases of human rabies occur in Asia and Africa, regions of the world which lack the resources to implement rabies vaccination programs. For these people, every interaction with a dog is a potential exposure to rabies. Every year on World Rabies Day (September 28), stakeholders work to raise awareness about the disease and encourage appropriate vaccination.

Because we live in a global society, rabies can pop up anywhere. All it would take is the inadvertent transport of a rabid animal into a previously rabies free area to set off an epidemic.

Rabies in NYC
In the United States, the primary reservoir for rabies is bats, but, always the trendsetter, NYC’s reservoir is the local raccoon population. In 2013, 56 rabid animals were identified in NYC, a number four times the 2012 number. Of the rabid animals, 46 rabid raccoons were identified, mostly in Staten Island. A rabid dog has not been identified in NYC since 1954, but for three of the last four years, a rabid cat has been identified in our city. This trend is especially alarming since cats see the veterinarian less than once a year, and lapses in rabies protection are becoming more frequent.

Although NYC has a plethora of rats, mice and squirrels, these rodents are typically resistant to rabies. Groundhogs, another member of the rodent family, can contract rabies and a rabid groundhog was identified in NYC in 2007.

Protect All Family Members Against Rabies
Vaccinate your pet against rabies, as recommended by your veterinarian. Educate your children about safe interactions with dogs and other animals. Don’t feed wildlife because it may attract a rabid animal into your neighborhood. If you or your pet are bitten by an animal, seek medical attention immediately.

For the most up to date information about rabies in NYC, check the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s website.

World Rabies Day: September 28, 2013

September 25, 2013

world rabies dayWorld Rabies Day takes place each year on September 28, the anniversary of the death of Louis Pasteur who, with the collaboration of his colleagues, developed the first efficacious rabies vaccine. The promotion of World Rabies Day aims to raise awareness about the impact of rabies on humans and animals, provide information and advice on how to prevent the disease, and inform us of ways individuals and organizations can help eliminate global sources (World Rabies Day website, 2010).

A recent article in the Palm Beach Post sets the tone for this year’s World Rabies Day blog. Four people, trying to help a sick kitten, have been exposed to rabies and have undergone rabies post exposure prophylaxis.

Feline rabies rising
This story helps underscore the importance of rabies vaccination in cats. Depending on the laws in your town and the type of vaccination used, cats may need to be vaccinated for rabies every one, two or three years by your primary care veterinarian. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports feline rabies is on the rise.

For the last three decades, the animal causing the most human exposure to rabies is the cat. According to New York State’s Wadsworth Laboratory, which performs statewide rabies testing, between 2003 and 2009 in New York State, there were about 25-30 feline cases of rabies per year. That number jumped to about 40 cases in 2010-2011, decreased to the usual level in 2012, and hopefully will continue to decrease. The Wadsworth Laboratory also reports cats are the number two animal tested (behind bats) and the number one domestic species tested for rabies. In 2012, 22 New York State cats tested positive for rabies, but no dogs tested positive for the rabies virus. Dog rabies occurs infrequently due to the successful vaccination programs in place.

Veterinarians are concerned the number of feline rabies cases will not decrease, since cats see their doctors less often than dogs see theirs. Fewer veterinary visits mean fewer opportunities to vaccinate cats against rabies, resulting in more unvaccinated cats at risk of developing rabies.

Feral cat reservoir? 
Since feral cats live at the intersection between humans and wild animals, some suggest feral cats serve as a reservoir for rabies. The rabid kitten of the Palm Beach Post article was believed to have come from a feral cat colony. Some colonies of feral cats are managed to facilitate population control and rabies prevention, but the Palm Beach colony was not managed in any way, causing some to call for removal of the entire colony.

Protecting your cat against rabies

  • Vaccination is the best method for preventing rabies. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations.
  • Keep your cat indoors and away from wild animals that may harbor rabies.
  • Don’t feed wild animals in your yard; you may be attracting trouble and putting your pets and family at risk.

Check out the Worms & Germs Blog for more information about rabies.


Resolve to Be a Responsible Pet Owner

January 2, 2013

woman with dog2It’s that time of year again; the time when we make New Year’s resolutions. I seem to make the same ones every year: eat healthier, exercise more, be kinder. My suggestion for 2013 is for every pet owner to be a responsible one. To achieve that goal, the American Veterinary Medical Association has developed a list of guidelines for responsible pet ownership.

Fur the Love of Pets believes this is a good list for pet owners to review before making their 2013 list of resolutions:


As the holidays approached, I received several tweets discouraging pets as holiday gifts since a pet is a lifetime commitment and acquiring one should not be an impulsive decision. You must choose the right pet for your lifestyle and should have as many pets you can comfortably care for, both physically and financially.

Good pet care involves more than food and water. A successful pet parent provides exercise, a stimulating environment and training.


Having a pet requires an investment of both time and money. Preventive healthcare saves money in the long run and helps prevent costly emergency visits.

Although vaccinations are part of a preventive healthcare program, the rabies vaccine protects human health as well.


Every pet should have both permanent and temporary identification. Permanent identification should preferably be a microchip, but a tattoo is a viable alternative. A collar with tags is a good temporary and immediate method of letting people know where your pet belongs if he should become lost.


Help decrease the nation’s pet overpopulation problem by spaying or neutering your pet. Preventing unwanted litters limits the number of animals entering shelters each year.


Prepare for your pet’s future like you prepare for your family’s future. Assemble a “go bag” for your pet. Include your pet in estate planning; don’t assume your family is prepared to add your pet to their household and make provisions for your pet in case you can no longer be the primary caretaker.

Should the Government Regulate Cats?

December 17, 2012

cats-RomeThis question is a rhetorical one – state, federal, and local governments already regulate several aspects of your cat’s care. And there are good reasons for the government to do so.

U.S. regulations

Rabies is a fatal disease, easily prevented by vaccination. Governments want to protect the health of their citizens and thus require cats to be vaccinated against rabies. New York City statute regulates the feeding of cats. Here, it is illegal to withhold food and water from any animal. But if stray cat feeding is done in a manner that creates a public health hazard or nuisance, New Yorkers may be breaking the law. Again, the government is worried about human health. So why are there currently two high profile legal cases about cat care?

Roman cats

For any cat lover who has visited Rome, Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary in Largo Argentina was probably a highlight of the trip. The site of Julius Caesar’s murder by Brutus in 44 BC and a cat sanctuary since 1929 AD, these underground ruins are home to approximately 150-160 cats. The “gattare,” or cat caretakers, raise money and provide food, water, and basic healthcare for these cats.

Recently, the sanctuary has come under fire for illegally building on ancient Roman ruins. Government officials in charge of Italy’s archeological treasures want the cats out, but the Mayor of Rome and his cat, Certisino, announced they are “on the side of the cats of Rome. Anyone who touches them will be in trouble.” The outcome of this stalemate remains to be determined.

The Hemingway cats

A little closer to home, the multi-toed Hemingway cats of Key West, Fla. have come under the scrutiny of an agency of the U.S. government. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates animals on exhibition, such as those owned by circuses and zoos. Although the Hemingway cats have lived in Key West since 1931, nearly as long as the cats of Torre Argentina have lived in their archeological site, the USDA has reclassified them and threatened the Hemingway Museum with confiscation of the 44 descendants of the original Hemingway cat if they do not comply with USDA regulations. The reclassification stems from the fact that these cats affect interstate commerce because they are a tourist attraction and the Hemingway Museum collects a fee for visitors to enter the Museum and see the cats.

Everyone agrees, cats will be cats

Robert Siegel of NPR, who clearly understands cats, writes about the Hemingway cats, “As for the cats, they’re not commenting. We have our doubts, though, that they’ll do what the law says. They’re cats.”

Umberto Broccoli, Rome’s superintendent of culture, expressed a similar sentiment when he said of the Largo Argentina cats, “They don’t read bans. They will return to Largo Argentina whether the shelter is there or not, and gattare and tourists will continue to throw food at them. The situation is really not so simple.”

Only time will tell how these catfights will be resolved.

Misty of Chincoteague

October 3, 2012

I spent my summer vacation at the beach looking for Misty and Stormy. You may think I was hoping to play beach volley ball with recently crowned Olympic three-peaters, but I was looking for Chincoteague ponies. Misty and her foal Stormy inspired two of my favorite childhood books: Misty of Chincoteague and Stormy, Misty’s Foal, both books by Marguerite Henry.

Assateague and Chincoteague Islands are barrier islands on the eastern coast of the Delmarva Peninsula. From their names, you might think Misty and Stormy came from Chincoteague Island; today the wild ponies live on Assateague Island, just to the east of Chincoteague. Assateague Island is a National Wildlife Refuge and one of the few places in the United States where wild ponies can be seen. Divided between Maryland and Virginia, Assateague National Wildlife Refuge provides homes to two separate herds of ponies, one in each state. I was lucky enough to see the pony herd in Virginia from the beach road and also when using my binoculars from Memorial Park on Chincoteague Island.

Pinto ponies like Misty dominate the herd, although I saw one or two solid color ponies. Chincoteague ponies are ponies because of their small stature, although genetically they are more like horses. Scientists theorize the small stature of Chincoteague ponies resulted from adaptation to the harsh environment of Assateague Island — salty water, limited plants for grazing, and mosquitoes.

Misty of Chincoteague centers on Pony Penning Day, when during slack tide, the ponies swim to Chincoteague and the foals are auctioned to raise money for the Chincoteague Fire Department. Although the ponies are considered wild, they are owned by the Chincoteague Fire Department and they have a veterinarian, Dr. Charles Cameron. They receive twice yearly veterinary care and emergency treatment as needed. Dr. Cameron was kind enough to speak with me about the ponies’ medical care.

Dr. Cameron reports that in just a couple of weeks the ponies will be rounded up for a fall deworming, but the major medical care comes in the spring when the adult ponies and the spring foals swim to Chincoteague for the annual pony auction. At that time, blood is drawn for equine infectious anemia testing and for the last 24 years, the ponies have been vaccinated against common horse diseases such as eastern and western equine encephalitis, tetanus, west Nile virus, and rabies. Rabies is an issue at the shore due to the other wild animals on Assateague Island. During the spring roundup the new foals are microchipped and registered with the United States Department of Agriculture. For the last five years a GPS microchip has been used to allow ponies to be tracked wherever they roam. Unlike the Maryland herd of Chincoteague ponies, the Virginia ponies do not receive any birth control. Management of the herd size relies on the spring foal sale.

A unique medical condition of the ponies seems to be hypocalcemia tetany associated with foaling, also called milk fever in cows. Most veterinary textbooks say this disorder is relatively uncommon in horses, but Dr. Cameron hypothesizes the limited grazing on Assateague Island puts the ponies at risk for this disorder. Treatment with intravenous calcium quickly corrects the problem.

Ponies are like your cat and dog. Pet owners should pay close attention to the care provided to the wild ponies as their care is what your pet should be receiving.

Current AAHA-AVMA canine and feline preventive healthcare guidelines suggest a minimum of one yearly veterinary visits. Microchipping, vaccinations appropriate to your pet’s lifestyle, and annual testing for infectious diseases are required to keep your dog and cat healthy a horse!

World Rabies Day 2012

September 28, 2012

Today, Friday, September 28th is World Rabies Day. This annual event serves to increase awareness about rabies in both animals and humans. In the United States, human cases of rabies have dramatically decreased since the 1970’s due to the “One Health” collaboration between public health officials, veterinarian-directed rabies vaccinations for companion animals, and wildlife vaccination programs.

Something new under the sun

Described in ancient Babylonia, by Homer in the Iliad, and also by Aristotle, rabies is possibly the oldest infectious disease known to both man and beast. But two recent developments, a shortage of the human vaccine, and increasing reports of rabies in animals has led to new issues in the prevention of rabies.

More animals and more species of rabid animals

Wild raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes harbor the rabies virus and transmit it to domestic animals and people. Airplane passengers got a scare earlier this year when a rabid bat checked himself into an Atlanta bound flight.

As cute as some wild animals are, we must never forget they are, in fact, wild and can cause great harm to humans. Most of us are wary of the typical rabies carriers like raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes, but recently, reports of rabies in unusual animals reminds us to look and not touch any wild animal, including groundhogs, beavers and deer.

Even NYC is not immune to rabies. We had a small raccoon epidemic a couple of years ago in Central Park.

Cats are the number one domestic animal infected with rabies, and just a few days ago, rabid kittens inadvertently adopted by families in Georgia provoked a public health scare.

Human vaccine shortage

Six cases of human rabies were reported in the United States in 2011; in 2010, only two cases were reported. Since rabies is virtually always fatal, even one case is too many. Some people at high risk, like veterinarians and international travelers, are vaccinated against rabies as a precaution. For those not vaccinated, post exposure prophylaxis is administered.

The same vaccine works for both pre- and post-exposure treatments, but right now vaccine supplies are limited. Priority for vaccination goes to those possibly exposed to rabies, and preventive vaccination is on hold. Government officials believe this situation will resolve shortly.

Protect your pet, protect yourself

  • Rabies vaccine is safe and readily available for companion animals. Talk to your veterinarian about rabies vaccination for your pets.
  • Both you and your pet should avoid contact with wild animals. If you find an injured wild animal, report it to the appropriate authorities; don’t try and care for it yourself.
  • Don’t encourage wild animals to visit your yard by feeding them.

If you want more information about rabies, review the most recent surveillance report from the American Veterinary Medical Association that was published just two weeks ago.

Dog Bites Happen to Everyone, Even Me!

May 14, 2012

May 20-26, 2012 is Dog Bite Prevention Week. Dog bites are a serious public health issue. In the United States, 4.7 million bites are estimated to occur each year. Children ages 5-9 are the most common victims of dog bites, but everyone is at risk.

I want to share my personal dog bite story and one that happened to my friend Susan the very same day.

You may immediately think that I was bitten by one of my dog patients. Not this time. I was walking down the hall of my apartment building just as the door to the service elevator opened. Thinking someone would come out of the door with their arms full; I stood still, away from the service elevator door, so the person could easily pass when the door opened. When it opened, out came a dog on a leash. My neighbor did not have a good hold on the leash, her dog jumped up on me, and, unprovoked, bit my arm. Fortunately, my arm was only bruised and the dog had been vaccinated for rabies. The dog owner’s veterinarian provided an official rabies vaccination certificate and there was no need for alarm.

Susan’s story is not as simple. While at an outdoor café, Susan saw a cute dog and asked the owner’s permission to pet it. Permission was granted and as soon as Susan began to pet the dog, it bit her on the hand causing serious bleeding. In the fray, the dog and the owner disappeared, Susan was taken to the emergency room, and because the dog’s rabies vaccination status was unknown, she had to get the series of rabies shots for her own safety.

Fur the Love of Pets readers can learn some valuable lessons from these two stories:

  • Always follow the rules for safe interaction with dogs. To view a video, click here.
  • Following the rules does not guarantee safety, and children interacting with any dog should always be supervised. Both Susan and I followed the rules for safe interaction with dogs. Susan asked permission from the owner before petting the dog and I stood still as a tree even when the dog rushed toward me.
  • Train your dog to safely interact with strangers so they don’t jump up and bite when they meet new people.
  • Keep your dog current on rabies vaccinations.
  • If your dog bites someone, no matter how embarrassing it is, give your name and address to the person who was bitten. It may save them from needing the series of shots required to prevent rabies, like Susan received.
  • Provide a copy of your dog’s rabies vaccination certificate to the person your dog has bitten. They will sleep a bit easier knowing your dog is protected against rabies and this knowledge may prevent them from needing the human rabies shots.

Susan and I are unusual in that we were adult victims of a dog bite. Children are more likely to be involved. If you have children, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a lesson in dog safety for parents.


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