By Dr. Lonnie King – Oconee Regional Humane Society
Our pets bring great enjoyment to our lives and, to many, they have reached a new status as a special family member. We all want our pets to live long, healthy and active lives. However, each day pets suffer health issues that could have been prevented with a little foresight and planning. To remind us that we are responsible for our pet’s health, October has been designated as “National Pet Wellness Month”. In observance of this occasion, here are ten tips to promote pet wellness and proper care.
1. Vaccinations. Dogs and cats are at risk for serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases. Fortunately, many of these diseases can be prevented through the administration of vaccines. It is especially important to begin vaccinations with young puppies and kittens and keep them up to date for their entire lifetime. There are core vaccinations needed yearly and non-core vaccinations that may also be needed based on veterinary recommendations or special circumstances. Remember that a rabies vaccination is legally required by the state of Georgia.
2. Proper Nutrition. Pets need a diet with wholesome ingredients and balanced nutrition for optimal growth and development that is tailored to their age group. It is estimated that more than half of our dogs and cats in America are classified as either over-weight or obese, which can lead to serious health conditions such as diabetes, liver problems and joint disease. Proper nutrition and weight control are like a daily dose of preventive medicine. It is essential to be knowledgeable about your pet’s nutritional needs. There are many high-quality commercial pet foods that meet approved standards and have been formulated based on strong research and development data. While our pets may be family members, they are not people when it comes to food and their special needs. Be cautious of fad and internet diets that promise good health but have no scientific basis or rationale to base their claims.
3. Preventing Ticks, Fleas, Heartworms and Internal Parasites (Worms). Internal and external parasites can pose serious health risks to pets. These pests such as fleas and ticks and internal worms can readily be prevented by the many options available that are easy to use, safe and effective. Some products will work to prevent all these parasites at the same time. However, having numerous options can be complicated for pet owners trying to make the right decisions. Some products are oral, some are topical (putting the product on their coat), others are injectable, and some contain chemicals embedded into collars. The products vary in the length of time that they work or are protective, and their uses may be different depending if they will be given to a cat or dog. For example, heartworms occur in both dogs and cats but differ in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Preventing internal and external parasites can also help prevent the spread of some serious diseases to owners and family members as well as to pets. Because we live in the south, ticks, fleas, heartworms and internal parasites are year-round threats so preventive treatments must also be used year- round and continued for a pet’s lifetime.
4. Spaying and Neutering. Having your pet spayed or neutered is key to curbing pet over-population and reduces the number of unwanted animals in our communities. Abandoned animals and strays are a common problem across Georgia. These animals, unfortunately, often live shortened, difficult and abused lives. Spaying and neutering can also reduce or prevent certain infections and cancers found in intact cats and dogs.
5. Grooming. Proper grooming keeps pets comfortable and clean. Regular brushing removes dead hair and helps distribute natural oils resulting in healthier coats and reduces mats from forming. Nail trimming helps to avoid injuries and discomfort when nails are over-grown, break or split. Routinely brushing your pet every few days, is part of wellness and gives you an opportunity to detect or notice any growths or abnormalities in their skin or musculature that need early attention.
6. Exercise. Just as in people, a regular exercise routine is essential to a pet’s good health. Exercise can help a pet maintain a healthy weight, and keep their muscles, tendons and bones strong. It may also help to reduce tendencies toward behavior problems. Walking, playing and enjoying the outdoors benefit health by burning calories and increasing an animal’s metabolic rate. Exercising your pet has an added benefit, it promotes better health in the owners as well.
7. Dental Care. Regular dental care is essential to maintaining good pet health. Some pets will tolerate brushing their teeth, which can be quite helpful, but be sure to use toothpaste that has been cleared for dogs or cats. Some human toothpastes can be very toxic and harmful especially in cats. Watch for excessive tartar, abnormal gums (reddened or bloody) or loose teeth. Unchecked dental disease can lead to kidney problems, painful periodontal disease or nutritional problems if the pet cannot chew food properly. As in people, routine teeth cleaning can be a helpful and necessary adjunct to good health.
8. Quality Time. The time that you spend with your pet can be invaluable. Pets are very tuned into us and quite perceptive. Likewise, you can learn more about them – their mood, personality, preferences and, at times, how they are feeling. By knowing a pet’s normal behavior and physical condition, you will be able to detect changes to their health much earlier. Quality time helps to establish a strong human-animal bond and can improve good behavior and training. For most people, having quality time to interact with a pet is one of the most enjoyable and gratifying activities that we share with them.
9. Pet Identification and Record Keeping. We never know when an emergency may arise so preparing ahead of time makes good sense. An important part of preparing is having your pet permanently identified and saving documents that track its health and care. The use of microchips is the best method to identify a pet. Make sure that the identification number is readily available and listed on state and national registers. Keeping records of vaccinations and medical exams, copies of pet tags and adoption papers can serve as helpful reminders for future appointments and may be needed in case of an emergency. It may also be useful to keep an updated photograph of a pet to help identify them.
10. Veterinary Examinations. Pets age more quickly than we do, which means that changes in their health can occur and escalate quickly. Dogs and especially cats can conceal early symptoms of disease problems. Thus professional examinations are important to diagnose and treat health problems early before they become more serious and costly. Establishing a relationship with a veterinarian is a valuable and effective way to ensure your pet’s health and wellness over its lifetime. Establishing routine wellness visits and examinations for your pet solidifies this relationship, optimizes health and enables you to have a competent and experienced professional available to you if there is an emergency or need for special care or treatment.
As pet owners, we share a common goal of ensuring a long, happy and healthy life for our special pets. National Pet Wellness Month reminds us that Benjamin Franklin’s advice, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is just as applicable to our pet’s health as to our own health and well-being.
September 28, 2019 has been designated as World Rabies Day. Many countries including the United States are observing this day in order to raise awareness about this disease and to bring partners together worldwide to promote the prevention and control of rabies worldwide. The theme of this year’s World Rabies Day is “Vaccinate to Eliminate”. We can do our part by making certain that our dogs, cats and ferrets, are up to date on their rabies vaccinations.
Although rabies is a disease that is 100% preventable, more that 59,000 people die from this deadly disease around the world every year. Most of these cases occur in rural communities in the world’s poorest countries, especially in Asia and Africa, and children have the highest rate of infection and death. Unvaccinated dogs are responsible for transmitting almost 98% of these cases. In the U.S., there are, on average, 400 – 500 cases of rabies in our domestic pets each year but almost 5,000 cases in our wildlife. In April of this year, a rabies positive skunk was found in Greene County, Georgia; thus, it is imperative that you have your pets vaccinated as a Georgia resident.
What is Rabies?
Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous systems. The virus is secreted through the saliva of infected animals and is usually transmitted to people and other animals through bites. Once an animal or person shows signs of rabies, it is almost always fatal. Rabies has been known to mankind for over 4,000 years. The name rabies is derived from the Latin term “rabies” which translated means “to rage”. The rabies virus will usually enter the brain and animals will exhibit changes in behavior including becoming extremely vicious or acting as “in rage” where the Latin term originated.
What Animals Get Rabies?
All mammals are susceptible to rabies. In the U.S., most cases of rabies occur in wildlife – mainly skunks, raccoons, foxes, and bats. Each of these animals serve as reservoirs for the disease and each of these wildlife groups has developed a special variation of the virus. In the U.S., we have been able to eliminate the canine variety of the rabies virus through a very successful vaccination campaign for our dogs. However, our dogs and cats are susceptible to the other strains of the virus and still need to be vaccinated to protect them from these other strains. Humans are also susceptible to all these strains of the rabies virus. Rabies occurs in horses, cattle, pigs, sheep and goats too, but less commonly than found in our pets. Cats that live outdoors, often are not vaccinated, and are especially apt to be exposed to wildlife and rabid animals.
What Are the Signs of Rabies?
Once rabies enters the body, it travels along the nerves to the brain. Animals with rabies may show a variety of signs, including fearfulness, aggression, excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing, staggering, and seizures, Aggressive behavior is common but rabid animals may also demonstrate uncharacteristic affection. Another form of rabies is call paralytic or dumb rabies where an animal is depressed, uncoordinated and becomes completely paralyzed prior to death. Animals manifesting either form of the disease will effectively transmit the disease. Rabid wild animals may lose their natural fear of humans and display unusual behavior such as nocturnal animals wondering and approaching people during the daytime. Rabies can only be confirmed after death, through the microscopic examination of the animal’s brain.
How Great of a Risk is Rabies to Humans?
Rabies remains a major concern worldwide because many countries do not have strong or effective vaccination programs for domestic and stray dogs. Rabies vaccinations, animal control programs and better treatments for humans after they have been bitten, have dramatically reduced the number of cases in the U.S. Today, more than half the human rabies exposures in our country have resulted from rabid bats. Thus, any contact with bats, even if a bite is not noticed, should be reported to your physician. Bats have very small teeth and their bites can be very tiny but still capable of transmitting the rabies virus. There have been just 40 human cases of rabies in the U.S. since 2003 and 12 of these cases were from exposures outside of the U.S. In the rest of the world, dogs are the most common carrier of rabies, particularly in Asia and Africa, so travelers need to be aware of this risk when they travel abroad.
How has the Threat of Rabies Changed in the U.S.?
Before 1960, most human cases of rabies in this country came from infected dog bites. Since that time, successful rabies vaccination campaigns for our pets and expanded leash laws have greatly reduced dog rabies. The U.S. is now free of the canine strain of rabies that is found in much of the rest of the world and now our exposures are occurring from wildlife especially bats. In 2016, there were 4.910 confirmed cases of rabies in animals in the U.S. Of these cases, 33.5% came from bats, 28% from raccoons, 21% from skunks, 6.4% from foxes, 5.2% from cats and 1.2% from dogs. There are also regional differences in occurrences and in 2016, more than half of all animal rabies cases came from just 5 states – Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, New York and Maryland. The different strains of the rabies virus are maintained in their respective wildlife populations or niches; however, the viruses spill over into domestic pets and humans from exposures and pets and people can are still susceptible to and can acquire rabies from any of these species or viral strains.
What If I Get Bitten?
Rabies in humans can be prevented by eliminating exposures from rabid animals or by providing people exposed to rabies with prompt postexposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP consists of local treatments of bite wounds in combination with the administration of human rabies immunoglobulin followed by several vaccine injections. Today’s PEP is much superior to past treatments and there is seldom any reaction to the injections; it has also been proven extremely safe and effective. Thus, there is no excuse in delaying treatment if it is recommended. Last year in the U.S., approximately 55,000 PEP treatments were administered to people with possible exposures. If you believe that you might have been exposed, don’t panic but also don’t ignore the bite. If you are bitten, wash the wound rigorously and thoroughly with lots of soap and water and then treat it with a disinfectant like iodine. Then call your physician immediately, explain the circumstances of your possible exposure and follow the physician’s advice. Also try to identify the animal that bit you – is it a local pet, a stray dog/cat or what type of wildlife was involved? If the bite was from a dog or cat, call the local animal control officers to collect it if possible.
What If My Pet is Bitten?
If your pet is bitten, consult your veterinarian immediately and report the bite to local animal control authorities. Even if your dog, cat or ferret has a current vaccination, he/she should be re-vaccinated immediately, kept under an owner’s control and observed for a period as specified by state law (usually 10 days). Pets that are bitten but have expired vaccinations, will need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis; you should work out the details with your local veterinarian. Pets that have never been vaccinated and are exposed to a rabid animal may need to be euthanized in accordance with regulations or placed in strict quarantine for several months. Remember that rabies vaccines will almost always prevent your pet from acquiring rabies when bitten by a rabid animal; therefore, it makes the most sense to keep them up to date on their rabies vaccinations. It is a good idea to keep your rabies vaccination certificate or proof of vaccination available to help you remember your pet’s vaccination history and as a source of information for veterinarians.
What If My Pet Bites Someone?
If your pet bites a person, urge the victim to see a physician immediately and to follow the physician’s recommendations. Then check with your veterinarian to make sure that your pet is up to date on its rabies vaccination. You should report the bite to the local health department and animal control authorities. Often your pet will need to be confined under your control to monitor for any signs of rabies. If your pet exhibits any unusual behavior, contact your veterinarian and the local health department. You must make certain that the pet is under control and able to be carefully observed. After the observation period, have your pet vaccinated for rabies if the pet’s vaccination is not current.
When Should a Pet Be Vaccinated and How Often?
Rabies vaccinations should only be administered by a licensed veterinarian and the dog, cat or ferret can usually receive its first vaccination at about 3 months of age. This initial vaccination should be followed up by another rabies vaccination a year later. After this sequence, your veterinarian will work with you and set up continual vaccinations at either 1-or 3-year intervals. There are different types of rabies vaccines that require different protocols to ensure full protection of your pet. Remember that all dogs, cats and ferrets must be vaccinated for rabies even if they spend most of their time indoors. Vaccinating your pet not only protects them from rabies but also reduces the risk for you and your family. Additionally, spaying or neutering pets will reduce the number of potential strays that would be susceptible and possibly exposed to rabies. Keeping your pet on a leash when outdoors also helps to prevent inadvertent exposure to rabies in wildlife.
Does the State of Georgia Have Laws Pertaining to Rabies?
Georgia has a legal requirement that all dogs, cats and ferrets be vaccinated for rabies and the vaccines can only be administered by a licensed veterinarian. The minimal age requirement is 3 months and pets must be continuously vaccinated over their entire lifetime. The primary responsibility for the control of rabies in Georgia rests with individual county Boards of Health. They also promulgate rules and regulations for the prevention and control of rabies including quarantine periods. County Boards of Health have websites that spell out the specifics of these programs for their respective counties.
What Can I Do to Help Control Rabies?
Remember that rabies is entirely preventable through vaccinations. You should make certain that your pet receives its rabies vaccination and remains up to date for its entire life. You can prevent possible exposure to rabies by not allowing you dog or cat to roam free and supervise them when they are outside. Spaying and neutering pets may decrease roaming tendencies and will prevent them from contributing to the birth of unwanted animals in our communities. It is helpful not to leave exposed garbage or pet food outside, as it may attract wild or stray animals. Try to observe wild animals only from a distance especially if their behavior is not normal. A rabid animal may appear tame, but you should not go near it. Children should be warned to NEVER handle unfamiliar animals even if they appear friendly. If you see a wild animal acting strangely, report it to local animal control authorities. If possible, work to bat-proof homes or other structures from nesting thus reducing their access to people or pets.
Are Dog and Cats at the Oconee Regional Humane Society (ORHS) Vaccinated?
All the dogs and cats under the care of the ORHS are vaccinated for rabies as well as for several other infections. They have been carefully examined, screened, spayed or neutered and thus are offered for adoption in good health and already vaccinated for rabies. This is another reason to consider adopting a pet from the ORHS.
World Rabies Day has been designated to remind us that rabies is the deadliest disease in the world, but it is also completely preventable. As pet owners, we all have a crucial role to play in preventing this lethal disease. Please celebrate this special day by vaccinating your pet!
The month of August has been designated as National Immunization Awareness Month for pets. This designation serves as a good reminder to make certain that your pet is up to date on vaccinations to help ensure the health of your pet, others’ pets and even yourself and your family.
Are the Terms Immunization and Vaccination the Same?
While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not really the same. A vaccine is a product (often called an antigen) designed to trigger a protective or immune response in your pet and prepare its immune system to effectively fight future infections from disease-causing agents such as certain bacteria and viruses. Vaccination is the process of introducing the vaccine into a person’s or animal’s body. An inoculation is another term for giving or administrating a vaccine into the body and can be done by injection, oral administration or by using a spray into the nose. Immunization defines the body’s reaction or response to the antigen or vaccine found in its body and helps the pet to become immune or protected from a specific disease. The immunization process usually results in the formation of antibodies that have been stimulated by the vaccine and can then recognize and destroy disease-causing organisms that may enter the body. These antibodies will either lessen the severity of a diseases or even prevent the disease altogether thus improving and protecting your pet’s health and quality of life. The pet is protected or immune to the disease in the future if the antibody levels remain active and sufficient in number which may require revaccinations over a pet’s lifetime.
Why Should I Have My Pet Vaccinated?
There are 5 reasons why vaccinations should be administered to your pets.
Are Rabies Vaccinations Require by Law?
Vaccinations for rabies are required by law in the State of Georgia and most states in the U.S. This is true for both dogs and cats. Owners can be liable for not following this legal mandate. Rabies vaccinations are only considered legal in Georgia if they are administered by a licensed veterinarian. All dogs, cats and ferrets are required to have been vaccinated for rabies by 3 months of age and then revaccinated annually unless a 3 -year rabies vaccine is used after the first year. The first confirmed case of rabies in Greene County this year was found in April in a skunk on Highway 15 South near White Plains, Georgia.
Which Vaccines Should My Pet Receive?
You should work with your local veterinarian to devise a vaccination program that is best suited for your pet. Some pets are homebodies, some have more modest opportunities for exposure to infectious diseases and some might live riskier lives through frequent exposures to diseases from other pets and wildlife by virtue of their lifestyles and activities. How much a pet travels, is boarded, is groomed or lives in a high-risk region will also help to determine a proper vaccination program for your individual pet. These differences in lifestyle and risks illustrate that a customized vaccination program should be planned and implemented for your pet. Vaccinations are categorized as either core or non-core. Core vaccinations are recommended for almost all pets and often include rabies, distemper, parvovirus, leptospirosis and canine hepatitis for dogs and feline panleukopenia, viral rhinotracheitis and feline calicivirus are usually recommended for cats. Non-core vaccinations may be recommended by your veterinarian depending on potential risks, disease exposures and a pet’s lifestyle. For example, some non-core vaccinations might include feline leukemia or canine kennel cough (Bordetella) or others recommended by your veterinarian.
When and How Often Should My Pet Be Vaccinated?
Very young animals are highly susceptible to infectious diseases because their immune or protection systems are not fully mature or completely effective. Their mother’s milk contains antibodies that serve to protect them while very young, but this protection doesn’t last long. Therefore, vaccinations need to be started in a pet’s first few months of life, and often a series of vaccines are needed when they are puppies or kittens. After this initial series of vaccines have been administered, annual boosters or re-vaccinations are often recommended to maintain protection through a pet’s lifetime. There are some variations in these recommendations based on a pet’s age, health status and lifestyle and you should work with your local veterinarian to establish the best schedule that is customized for your pet.
What About Vaccinations for Pets Living Indoors?
Many infectious diseases are spread or are acquired through aerosolization transmission (through breathing the air) and don’t require direct contact with another animal to be exposed to the disease agent. In addition, indoor pets can and do get outdoors on occasion and could be exposed to diseases more directly. It is therefore recommended by experts and professionals that all pets receive core vaccinations plus some non-core vaccination if indicated by your personal veterinarian.
Are There Risks Associated with Vaccinations?
While very uncommon, all medical procedures including vaccinations carry some risk. However, other than possibly experiencing some discomfort or local swelling at the site of the vaccine, which is short-lived, more serious complications are quite infrequent. If you see that you pet is experiencing such an event, you should return them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. The benefits of vaccinations greatly outweigh the impacts of acquiring one of these infectious diseases that could include serious and expensive illnesses and even death.
Are the Oconee Regional Human Society (ORHS) Dogs and Cats Vaccinated?
The ORHS takes great pride in only offering pets for adoption that are healthy, spayed or neutered and are also up to date on their vaccinations. This commitment will help assure that you start off on the right foot when adopting one of our pets.
While we have made great strides in reducing and preventing infectious diseases in our pets, dangerous disease-causing pathogens continue to be present and can put our pets at significant risk to infections. Yet, most of the most common, serious and life-threatening infectious diseases of pets are preventable through the proper and timely administration of vaccines. Because this is the National Immunization Awareness Month, please take the important steps to keep your pet updated on their vaccinations. This will give you both peace of mind and help your beloved pet and you to lead safer and healthier lives.