By Dr. Lonnie King
The month of April has been designated as “Heartworm Awareness Month”. This designation is a good reminder for you to make sure that you understand the serious threat of heartworms and ensure that you are taking the right steps to prevent this disease in your pets.
Heartworm Disease affects thousands of dogs and cats across Georgia every year. All 50 states and many countries around the world experience heartworm disease in pets and wildlife. In the U.S. alone, there are an estimated 1.1 million active cases and Southeastern United States is a hotspot for cases. Georgia ranks #8 in the U.S. for total cases and the disease is becoming more prevalent.
A Complex Disease
Heartworm (HW) is a preventable but very serious disease that can be fatal. It can infect dogs, cats, ferrets, and a variety of wildlife. Adult HW (scientific name, Dirofilaria immitis) look like strands of cooked spaghetti and can reach lengths of 12-14 inches. These worms grow and lodge in the heart and lungs of infected animals and can cause restricted blood flow, damaged blood vessels and produce high levels of inflammation. The adult worms release microscopic offspring into the animal’s blood stream that are termed microfilaria. The microfilaria, in turn, will enter, survive and further mature in the bodies of mosquitoes when they bite an infected animal and then continue to be transmitted when the mosquito resumes biting other animals. The microfilaria take about 6 months to grow into adult worms which enter the heart and lungs. Dogs, cats, and other animals cannot transmit the disease directly, only mosquitoes are responsible for transmission.
Once a pet is infected with microfilaria, it takes about six months for them to become adults and lodge in the heart and lungs. Adult HW can live in pets for years continuing to produce microfilaria during this entire time and making them a risk and continuous source of infection. Infected dogs with advanced disease often demonstrate symptoms that include a mild cough, fatigue, reluctance to exercise, difficulty breathing, decreased appetite and loss of weight.
HW can never be eliminated because wildlife, including foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and opossums are susceptible, have the same life cycle as found in pets, and serve as sources of HW for other wildlife and domestic pets through mosquito bites. Georgia has a great environment for the maintenance and spread of HW because of our warm weather, water sources, mosquitoes, and lots of wildlife. Thus, the disease is a constant threat, and the natural cycle of infection occurs year around in our state.
HW Disease in Cats
Although dogs and cats both can contract HW, the disease in cats is very different from the disease in dogs. Cats are poor hosts for HW, and the disease often will not progress, so adult worms do not develop. Even if they do, the number of adult HW found in cats is much less that found in dogs. The immune system of cats aggressively attacks microfilaria thus preventing them from maturing into adult worms. However, through this process, a huge amount of inflammation is created that can cause serious damage to lung tissue. There are usually many fewer cases of HW in cats relative to our dogs; however, the disease in cats can be very severe and even fatal. Cats with advanced disease will often cough, wheeze and vomit. About 25 percent of cases in cats are found in indoor cats. Infected mosquitoes do get inside our homes and unknowingly put these pets at risk.
Testing and Treatment
The earlier HW disease is detected, the better the chances that your pet will recover. In dogs, diagnostic tests are accurate and relatively simple. Using a blood sample, proteins (antigens) from adult worms can be detected and the microfilaria may also be found by examining the pet’s blood sample. Your local veterinarian can usually do these tests as part of a routine office visit. HW infection in cats is much more difficult to diagnose since they commonly do not have circulating microfilaria in their blood and antigen and antibody tests are not very reliable. Sometimes, X-rays or ultrasound will be used in both cats and dogs to help diagnose HW.
Treatments are available and although they have a relatively high degree of success if used before the disease becomes too advanced, the treatments can be risky, and complications may occur. The goal of the treatment in dogs is to kill both the adult worms and the microfilaria as safely as possible. This is done through a series of injections over a period of time. It is important to consider that when treatment is taking place, HW in the heart and lungs are dying and slowly being dissolved; thus, complete rest and often hospitalization is necessary. The treatment often takes several months to complete. Glucocorticoids and antibiotics are often included as part of the total treatment. Recently, researchers have found that the adult HW are themselves infected with a bacterium (called Wolbachia) that may complicate both the course of the disease and the treatment.
Unfortunately, there are no approved treatments for cats and the treatments used for dogs, often an arsenic-containing drug, are toxic and dangerous for cats. You will need to work with your local veterinarian to plan the best treatment strategy which will often focus on reducing their very high levels of inflammation. On rare occasions, HW can be removed surgically but this is a high-risk procedure reserved for only the most severe cases.
Managing Heartworms in Animal Shelters and Humane Societies
An estimated 30 percent of pets in the U.S. are acquired from animal shelters and this number is growing. While this is wonderful trend, animal shelters do have unique challenges in dealing with HW disease. Dogs and cats are likely to be at higher risk of HW because stray and surrendered animals have often not received veterinary care nor have they been on HW preventive medications. It is costly and time consuming for shelters to diagnose and treat HW cases. However, this should not discourage you from obtaining a “forever pet” from them. Our own Oconee Regional Humane Society (ORHS) works with local veterinary practitioners to test every dog under their care and if any are found infected, they work together to treat these dogs either prior to adoption or they will help pay for the treatment after adoption. The cost of treatment can be expensive and the ORHS conducts a “Heart-to-Heart” campaign each year to obtain donations that will exclusively be used to help pay for treating HW cases. Please watch for this campaign and hopefully support the cause generously.
PREVENTION, PREVENTION, PREVENTION!
There is good news – HW disease is almost 100 percent preventable in both dogs and cats. There are numerous options available that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration that can be used. The best choice for your pet will be based on the pet’s lifestyle and risk factors. Remember that preventives do not kill adult worms therefore your pet needs to be tested and be negative before you begin preventive treatments. Preventives may be in the form of pills, topical medications, or injections. Chewable tablets given monthly are commonly used for both dogs and cats. By preventing HW in your pet, you not only protect them, but also help break the infection cycle and protect other pets.
All the preventive medications work by eliminating the microfilaria stage of the HW parasite circulating in the blood. Once you are certain that your pet is HW negative, preventive medications can then be started. Because puppies and kittens are also susceptible to HW infection, they should be started on preventives as early as 8-10 weeks of age. However, work with your local veterinarian because not all medications are cleared for use at early ages. Our Georgia pets are constantly exposed to infected mosquitoes twelve months of the year and for the lifetime of the pet. It has been estimated that the cost of HW treatment is fifteen times greater than the annual cost of preventive medications.
There is further good news; there can be additional benefits from today’s medications. Some HW preventive treatments used today are also effective in preventing intestinal worms such as hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, and tapeworms. Some even will concurrently prevent flea, tick, and ear mite infestations. It is important to work with your local veterinarian to make certain that your pet tests negative for HW and you choose the best option to prevent the disease.
There is no vaccine for HW but the many effective preventives, if used properly, compensate for this deficiency. A final piece of good news is that HW do not have the ability to live in people and although we are bitten by infected mosquitoes like our pets, the parasite will not survive nor cause human disease.
As we acknowledge “Heartworm Awareness Month” this April, please remember that Georgia is major hot spot for HW disease and our dogs, cats and ferrets are at high risk over their entire lifetimes. However, as responsible, and caring pet owners, we have the tools to prevent this serious and often fatal infection. Our fury family members are counting on you to protect them!
Help ORHS Prevent Heartworm
April is Heartworm Prevention Month and the start of the annual ORHS Heart -to-Heart campaign. Over the last year, we have rescued 15 HW positive animals. Heartworm treatment can cost over $500 per animal. You can help us ensure that these animals go to their adoptive homes ready for long and healthy lives. Can you please help us?
April is Heartworm Prevention Month and the start of the annual ORHS Heart -to-Heart campaign. Over the last year, we have rescued 15 HW positive animals. Heartworm treatment can cost over $500 per animal. You can help us ensure that these animals go to their adoptive homes ready for long and healthy lives. Can you please help us?
Initiated by Doris Day and her Animal League in 1995, this annual campaign urges dog and cat lovers to save animal lives and control population by spaying and neutering. This will help already living animals find their loving forever homes. Every life is worth saving and every effort helps. Your donations to ORHS allow us to spay or neuter every animal in our care before heading home.
What You Should Know...
We are all on high alert as we follow the spread of the COVID-19 (new coronavirus) pandemic and its unprecedented impact on our lives. What about our pets? Are they susceptible? Can they transmit the infection? What should I do with my pet if I contract the virus? Where did this virus come from? While we are still trying to understand the COVID-19 pandemic, there is information emerging that is helpful in answering these questions.
Where Did It Come From?
Coronaviruses are a family of related viruses that can cause diseases in mammals and birds. The name is derived from the Latin “Corona” meaning “crown” which refers to the microscopic appearance of the virus – a ball with protein spikes that resemble a crown. In humans, past coronavirus infections have caused respiratory tract infections that were mild such as the common cold or serious, even fatal infections such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and recently COVID-19. The name COVID-19 is an abbreviation from Corona Virus Disease and 2019, the year the disease was discovered. Both SARS and MERS have been responsible for epidemics over the past two decades and are related to COVID-19. Symptoms of coronavirus infections vary with species that are infected. Pigs and cattle have gastro-intestinal diseases and birds and cats have respiratory diseases. However, there is no transmission to people in the U.S. from our domestic or food producing animals.
There is strong scientific evidence that the recent group of serious human coronavirus infections, SARS, MERS and COVID-19, have all originated from bats. COVID-19 has a 96% genetic match with a coronavirus recently found in a bat in China. Bats likely serve as asymptomatic carriers of these viruses. They have the infections without getting sick, but still can shed and transmit the virus to other animals or people. The bats are considered the maintenance host, that is, the virus remains in them and is the principle source of the disease long term. The recent group of serious human diseases caused by coronaviruses have also been isolated from a group of other animals that were infected from bats and then became carriers themselves, thus further spreading the diseases. These animals are termed intermediate hosts, meaning that they become infected as a species and can then amplify and further spread the virus. For example, the intermediate host for MERS is likely camels. Currently, the pangolin, an animal like a small anteater, is suspected of helping to initially spread COVID-19 after being infected from bats but this theory is still unproven and is being researched further. People can be infected either directly from bats but are usually infected from intermediate host animals. Pandemics occur when the viruses are capable of being transmitted from person to person without the involvement of animals.
Early evidence suggests that COVID-19 originated from bats found in “live-animal” markets in Wuhan, China. It is a common cultural practice in China for people to visit large markets with many live animals that are all mixed closely together. People mix with birds, mammals, reptiles and fish which are sold and often slaughtered onsite so that people get fresh meat for their meals. This practice allows people to come into close contact with a variety of animal species, including bats, that may be carrying coronaviruses or other infections. We know that this same practice was likely the source of the SARS pandemic in 2002-2003. Some bats are hunted and used for food in other cultures including China. Not all these viruses are easily transmitted to people and even if they do infect people, the infections are often limited because the transmission doesn’t easily occur from person to person. COVID-19 has been an exception. It has the unique capability of being readily transmitted from person to person; it is highly contagious and thus has spread rapidly across the globe as a pandemic.
Can Dogs and Cats Get Infected With COVID-19?
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there is currently no evidence that household pets can contract or spread COVID-19. The CDC has also confirmed that they have not received any reports that pets or other animals in the U.S. have become sick with COVID-19. In addition, public health officials state that that is no evidence or research to support the idea that human to pet transmission occurs. Dogs and cats can acquire their own type of coronavirus infections from each other and these usually result in mild illnesses. Importantly, these animal infections only circulate within the pet populations and are not transmitted to, nor infect people. Thus. there is very strong evidence, from many sources, that our pets do not contract COVID-19 and are not are sources of the infection.
Are There Diagnostic Tests Available for Pets for COVID-19 and Should I have My Pet Tested?
While there is a diagnostic test that is being developed for COVID-19 for pets, it is not commercially available today. More importantly, there is no reason to test pets since they are not being infected with COVID-19. If your pet develops a respiratory disease, the recommendation is to work with your veterinarian to test for other respiratory infections. However, because COVID-19 is a new disease, more information is always being discovered about the dynamics of the infection. COVID-19 will continue to be monitored in pets but today there is no reason to tests pets and there is no recommendation to do so.
What Should I Do with My Pet If I Contract COVID-19?
The CDC recommends that if you contract COVID-19, you should keep a distance from your pets just like you would do with other people while you are quarantined. While there have been no reports of any pets being infected or sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that you limit any contacts with your pets until more information is known about the virus. The concern is not that your pet will become infected, but it could possibly carry the virus on its fur or collar for a short time and transmit to another person. While this is feasible, it is certainly not a high risk. Yet out of an abundance of caution, it would be helpful, if possible, to have someone else care for you pet while you are sick. If this is not possible, be sure to wash your hands before and after interacting with your pet. Certainly petting, snuggling, kissing, being licked or sharing food should be avoided.
If I Don’t Have COVID-19, Should I Change How I Interact with My Pet?
If you are not ill with COVID-19, you can interact with your pet as you normally would including walking, playing and feeding. You should still practice good hygiene by washing your hands frequently and ensure that you pet is clean and well groomed. While you will not contract COVID-19 from your pet, there are other diseases and parasites that can be transmitted.
How Should I Prepare for My Pet’s Care in the Event that I Am Infected with COVID-19?
You should develop a contingency plan for your pet just like you should be doing for you and your family. Identify a person, either in your household or a friend, to care for your pet should you contract COVID-19. Make sure that you have an emergency kit prepared with at least 2-3 weeks of food and any needed medications. It is probably a good idea to have an emergency kit available for your pet anyway, in case there are further restrictions on social distancing.
What If My Pet Needs to Go to The Veterinarian?
If you are not ill with COVID-19 or have another communicable disease like the flu, call your veterinarian and follow her/his recommendations to work out a schedule for a visit. While many routine veterinary visits can be rescheduled, work with your veterinarian to check when he/she believes the visit is most appropriate and safe. If your pet has an emergency, call ahead to find out about needed care or recommendations to be seen. If you are sick with COVID-19 or have been recently diagnosed, you must stay at home and minimize contact with other people and avoid unnecessary risks.
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.