Rabies is a fatal disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. It can infect all warm-blooded animals, including humans. In Alberta, the only current known reservoir in wild animals is bats, and 3 bats have tested positive within the city of Calgary last year (2015). However other reservoirs have been recognized in the past include skunks, coyotes, foxes, and raccoons.
This means that the potential transmission of rabies, even within city dwelling dogs and cats is still very real. The most common way to contract rabies is through a bite from an infected animal. When a rabid animal bites, rabies virus in its saliva passes through the broken skin of the victim. Although bats are rarely seen and tend to be shy animals, a rabid bat will behave very abnormally, and are often found in broad daylight and are easily caught by dogs and cats that are naturally predatory.
Vaccination of healthy dogs and cats, is a very effective way of protecting the human population from exposure, as well as protecting the dogs and cats themselves. There is almost 100% protection from the deadly disease through routine vaccination, and the risk of vaccinating healthy animals is minimal.
The symptoms of rabies can be quite varied. In general, the disease shows three stages that occur in succession. NOTE: not every animal will display these signs, so any animal behaving abnormally should be regarded with suspicion if rabies vaccination status is not known or is not current.
Stage 1 – Attitude Change
- The animal may show nervousness, shyness, aggression or other changes in its normal personality.
- May show a lack of fear of humans.
Stage 2 – Furious or Excitable Phase
- Animals may become extremely agitated, or behave erratically.
- Animals may bite and snap at anything
- Wild animals may wander into unaccustomed areas and attack livestock, people or pets.
- The tone of an animal’s voice may change as its vocal cords become paralyzed.
- Seizures may occur.
Stage 3 – Paralysis
- Victims become progressively paralyzed.
- Animals may be unable to move their hind limbs and unable to swallow, resulting in choking and frothing at the mouth.
- This phase ends in death, usually from paralysis of the respiratory muscles
Rabies cannot be diagnosed with certainty based on symptoms alone. The suspicion of rabies can only be confirmed by testing samples of an animal’s brain tissue after death.
If you’ve been bitten by any animal, clean and disinfect the wound thoroughly, then contact Health Link at 1-866-408-5465 immediately. If the biting animal can be confined without further danger, it should be kept in a secure area until the Alberta Public Health Veterinarian can be contacted. Rabies is a reportable disease in Alberta and Canada. Depending on the circumstances, the animal will be quarantined for monitoring, or euthanized for testing. The animal’s vaccination status will influence this decision. Your physician, public health official or veterinarian will arrange for the involvement of the Alberta Public Health Veterinarian.
Remember – rabies is a fatal disease! Every biting incident should be investigated, even if the animal in question appears healthy.
Adapted from http://www.albertaanimalhealthsource.ca/