Rabies is one of the oldest and most feared viral infections of all time. Despite having a vaccine available, every year, there are 55,000 human deaths worldwide. Of the 25 human deaths from rabies in Canada, the most recent was in 2012, and all happened after exposure to bats. In Canada, there were 239 cases of animal rabies in 2017 and 183 in 2018. The majority of these cases were in Ontario. Raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes are the most commonly infected species. Rarely, cats and dogs become infected. This is most likely after exposure to rabid bats or rabid arctic foxes. With the recent trend in adopting dogs from Northern Canada and abroad, we may be increasing the risk of exposure to ourselves and our pets. Fortunately, there is a vaccine for protection against rabies infection.
Rabies vaccination is extremely safe and reliable. Local veterinarians provide annual, low-cost rabies clinics. Expense should not be a barrier to protecting a pet. A vaccine protocol, available from veterinarians, has been developed to protect companion animals for three years. The Ontario government uses an oral bait vaccine to reduce the spread of rabies in wildlife. This community approach has been very successful in reducing the number of rabies exposures.
Indoor pets need protection, too. Exposure to rabid bats is possible inside the home, and a small bite may not be noticed under the fur of a cat or dog.
Is rabies risk for our animal companions? Yes, it is. Vaccinate, reduce exposure and contact your veterinarian if there have been any chance of a bite from wildlife or exposure to bats.
For more information about human and animal rabies risk: