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When I was little, I used to run around the house with a mouthful of toothpaste foam saying, “Look, I have rabies!” I thought it was funny at the time, but rabies is no laughing matter. As a fatal virus that kills 50,000 people worldwide on a yearly basis, “rabies” is a word that can, and should, make people leery.
Cat owners, in particular, should take notice: Cats are the domestic animal most commonly diagnosed with rabies in the U.S. It is found in many species of wildlife -- with hotbeds of infection in certain populations of bats, skunks, foxes and raccoons -- and has been identified in every U.S. state except Hawaii. As humans encroach further and further into wilderness regions and increase the exposure risk, rabies cases in this country have increased.
Rabies can be passed from any affected animal to humans. Between 30,000 and 40,000 preventive post-bite treatments are administered in the U.S. on a yearly basis. Once the virus reaches the nervous system, there is no cure.
The main way for humans and pets to stay safe is for pet owners to ensure that their pets are vaccinated against rabies, but many cats remain unvaccinated for a variety of reasons. Cats may or may not be required by law to be vaccinated for rabies, depending on the jurisdiction. In addition, many cat owners are nervous about vaccinating their cat due to the correlation between certain vaccinations and sarcomas in a small number of cats.
The best way to make a plan for your cat’s vaccine schedule and disease prevention is to have a discussion with your veterinarian about the risks and benefits of vaccinations depending on your cat’s lifestyle and health status.
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang is a small-animal veterinarian from San Diego. When she's not at work or with her family of two and her four-legged creatures, you can find her blogging about life with pets at PawCurious.com. Dr. Vogelsang's blogs have previously appeared on The Daily Cat.