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Bites, Rabies, and Protocol – Oh My!

Author: Andrea Obey | Date: August 6, 2012

Dog and cat bites can be serious business.  And not just in the physical injury department either; in your wallet!  It can be emotionally costly too.  Any time there is an animal bite that breaks the skin, there is a rabies protocol that goes hand-in-hand.  But do you know what it is?  What happens when your dog or cat (or any other mammalian pet you may have) bites another animal or a human?  Even if it’s “just a little nick” it still needs to be reported.

Check with your local community, county or state for specific laws in your area, but here are some facts in Cook County about any bite that breaks the skin that everyone should know.

  • If your cat or dog bites a human or another animal while CURRENT on its rabies vaccine, a report must be filed with the county immediately.  You will need to contact the police and/or your veterinarian to do this within 24 hours.  A veterinarian will need to do an exam on the pet within this 24 hour period, which of course, will cost you.  Your pet will need to be confined to your home/property for an in-home 10 day observational period and then reexamined by the veterinarian again on the 10th day.
  • If your cat or dog bites a human or another animal while NOT CURRENT on its rabies vaccine, you still must file a report within 24 hours and the same applies, except your pet needs to be confined at place that has a licensed veterinarian such as your animal hospital or the county animal control location for those ten days.  This will also be at your expense and can be very costly.  Not to mention the fine you may receive in addition to the cost of the animal being confined at a location and the exams.  Ouch!  That hurts almost as much as a bite!
  • Your dog must wear its rabies vaccine tag at all times off your property.  This can also help with identification should your dog get lost.
  • The trainer in me deeply encourages you to begin training your puppy for bite inhibition from day one.  Here is a very helpful article from Dr. Ian Dunbar on how to do this. If you are having trouble with an older pup or dog, please contact a proper trainer to help you and your dog.  This also applies to kitties!  If you have a cat that is a biter, all of the same rules apply in rabies protocol.  Find a feline trainer to help you if you are having behavioral issues.

Generally, we do not see a lot of cases of rabies in dogs and cats here in the US because of protocols such as these. But in 2010, there were 69 reported cases of rabies in dogs and 303 reported cases in cats in the US.  Just one encounter with an infected raccoon, bat, opossum, or any other wild mammal can mean a death sentence. According to the CDC, rabies has one of the highest case-fatality ratios of any infectious disease.  That is scary enough to me to get me to vaccinate!  I see a lot of easily preventable costs, headaches and very sad unfortunate events at the animal hospital where I work.  People let their dogs rabies vaccine expire, it bites someone or another dog and then the real costs begin.  So a day at the dog park with a dog who is not current on rabies vaccine can turn into a nightmare quickly. Having a dog stay at our hospital for a ten-day observation is no fun for the dog, owner and the care-takers.  The dogs cannot even go out for a walk.  That is so terrible for their mental well-being and it breaks my heart.

As I mentioned, some of the details are different from state to state but generally are the same so please check with your local county and veterinarian about laws pertaining to where you live.  Also, there are specific laws if you are traveling out of state or out of the country and each airline has specific requirements (for all vaccines and methods of prevention) so please do a little research before traveling.

I know that vaccinating your dog can be a touchy subject with some but please keep in mind some of the ramifications if you choose not to do so.  There are also instances where vaccines are not advised, such as an animal that is ill or has a history of severe reactions.  We don’t see a lot of reactions to rabies vaccines specifically where I work but they do exist.  Please talk to your veterinarian about options and if you have questions about any vaccines.

Here are more links that are informative about bites and rabies protocol.  Be safe and healthy!

Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Bite Scale

The CDC’s Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control

And for Cook County residents, the Animal & Rabies Control Hearings Division

 


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