Rabies is “relatively common” in the Moose Jaw area, according to local veterinarian Dr. Bob Bellamy.
© Times-Herald photo by Lisa Goudy
Dr. Bob Bellamy inspects a kitten at the Bellamy Harrison Animal Hospital on Wednesday.
“In my career, which spans 30 years or more, I’ve probably diagnosed it four or five times. I’ve had to take post-exposure rabies treatment four or five times. So it is certainly out there,” the veterinarian at Bellamy Harrison Animal Hospital said.
“Rabies is a significant disease and quite a scary disease from a veterinary perspective … Rabies, unfortunately, is a fatal disease in both animals and people.”
World Rabies Day, established in 2007, is on Saturday. It is intended to raise global awareness of the disease. He said it’s important to vaccinate pets.
According to a release from the provincial livestock branch of the agriculture ministry, thousands of people die each year from rabies, usually spread by dog bites.
The release said each year in Saskatchewan a dog, cat, horse or cow has rabies. Since they have been in contact with people, public health provides post-exposure rabies treatment to stop the disease from developing.
“You go through a series of injections and I guess I’ve taken that many times in my career. It’s not as bad as it used to be. Years ago you used to go through a series of 27 injections that were given into the abdomen,” said Bellamy. “Now they have a human diploid vaccine and I think it’s only five or so (injections).
“Most veterinarians are vaccinated against rabies and so is our staff, but it is certainly a disease that’s particularly common, particularly amongst wildlife.”
He said rabies is also present in skunks and bats in Saskatchewan.
“The primary vector in Saskatchewan is the skunk (and) probably summer would be more common than winter,” said Bellamy.
There are two types of rabies — furious rabies and dumb rabies. He said furious rabies “usually is quite easy to diagnose” because the animal changes behaviour.
“Often a friendly animal becomes aggressive or an aggressive animal becomes friendly,” said Bellamy. “In the dumb form of the disease, which is probably, at least in my career, the one I’ve seen most often, it causes paralysis of the throat and you have that typical drooling dog or cat.”
Normally within 10 days of symptoms, death occurs. He said paralysis begins at the back end of the animal and “works its way” to the front end.
“The primary risk of rabies to the general public are their household pets,” said Bellamy. “All household pets should be vaccinated even the pet that is kept as an indoor pet because bats get in the house.”
He said it’s happened where a cat caught a bat that was positive for rabies. As there is no treatment for rabies, if the exposed animal isn’t fully vaccinated it will either be euthanized or placed in long-term quarantine for “further prolonged periods of time,” said Bellamy.
Vaccines can only be administered by veterinarians and can be given to dogs and cats as early as three months of age. If vaccinated the animal is unlikely to get rabies even if bit by a rabid animal.
“There are rabies vaccines that are very effective in preventing rabies,” said Bellamy. “You should consult your veterinarian as to how frequently you should vaccinate.”
Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.