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Mon, Dec. 09

Some things you should know about Rabies

Photo by Heidi Dahms Foster<br>Coyotes, like this pup photographed in an urban Prescott Valley neighborhood, are one example of wildlife your pet can encounter. Bats, skunks and foxes are the top Rabies carriers.

Photo by Heidi Dahms Foster<br>Coyotes, like this pup photographed in an urban Prescott Valley neighborhood, are one example of wildlife your pet can encounter. Bats, skunks and foxes are the top Rabies carriers.

It's easy to put off or forget to renew your dog's rabies vaccination, but it's important for several reasons.

First to comply with local law, your dog must have a current rabies vaccination to obtain a city or county dog license.

Second, Arizona has had 54 reports of rabies as of April this year. Some have involved wild animals biting humans, such as Chris Sabo of Tucson, who was hiking in northern Arizona in mid-April. Associated Press reports said a rabid gray fox, possibly the same one that had bitten a Massachusetts man three times an hour before, bit him on the foot. In March a rabid mountain lion attacked and scratched a 10-year-old boy in Tonto National Forest before an adult with him shot the cat. The AP report said nine people who were with the boy had to undergo rabies vaccinations because they touched the animal without gloves after it was dead.

In the Arizona cases reported as of late April, AP said, six confirmed rabid animals attacked nine people.

And if you think living in an urban area will protect you from wild animals, think again. In one Prescott Valley neighborhood this spring, in virtually the middle of town, a coyote whelped and raised a litter of five cubs. Bats can go anywhere, by virtue of flight, and skunks are everywhere.

Attacks on people are rare, but think about your family pet. Dogs in particular are curious and territorial, and will readily approach other animals, wild or domestic. That puts them at elevated risk of coming into contact with a rabid animal. Bats, skunks and foxes are the prime carriers in Arizona, according to the Arizona Dept. of Health Services.

Aside from the obvious risks to your own and your pet's health if your unvaccinated dog has a run-in with a rabid animal, there is added trauma if your animal has a close encounter with a rabid animal. Rabies is nearly always fatal without immediate medical intervention, and laws regarding bites are stringent.

If your dog bites a person, you may keep it in quarantine at home for 10 days if it is properly vaccinated. If it does not have current vaccinations, animal control will quarantine your pet for 10 days at your expense. If the dog exhibits no signs of Rabies after 10 days, you're in the clear. But if your dog tangles with an animal determined to have rabies, things can get very costly.

Elisabeth Lawaczeck, Arizona State Public Health Veterinarian, said Arizona law requires that a pet that is bitten by, has bite marks from possible exposure, or has close encounter with a wild animal with rabies, be observed at home for 45 days if that pet is vaccinated by a licensed veterinarian.

Here is what Lawaczeck said is probably the biggest motivator for proper and timely rabies vaccination: If the animal has never been vaccinated by a licensed veterinarian and the owner cannot show proof of same, the pet must be quarantined by animal control for six months, at the owner's cost. There is some leeway for quarantine if the animal is late on its vaccination, but that is at the discretion of the animal control official, not a chance that most pet owners want to take, as most officials will be rightly extremely wary of Rabies.

Lawaczeck stressed that a licensed veterinarian or veterinary staff must give the vaccination, and the owner must obtain proper documentation.

"Rabies vaccination done by the owner, with vaccines purchased at a feed store or online, is not recognized. A licensed veterinarian or veterinary staff must see the animal, determine it to be normal and healthy, and administer the vaccine. In a lot of rural areas the vet isn't right down the street, so owners try to do the vaccines by themselves and show the label as proof. This is not sufficient."

That Associated Press article I mentioned earlier said officials expect Arizona to break its record of more than 169 reported cases of Rabies in a single year. Don't take the chance with your own pet. Make an appointment today to bring your dog's Rabies vaccination up to date.

Note: If you have a topic you would like to see in this blog, or a great pet story, email Heidi Dahms Foster at

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