Earlier this year, Carlsbad, N.M., saw one of the most concentrated outbreaks of rabies in the state’s history—32 dogs, at least one cat, and a number of livestock were euthanized after exposure to the deadly virus. The New Mexico Department of Health reported that almost all of these deaths could’ve been prevented through proper vaccination. So why is it still so hard to convince clients to vaccinate their pets against rabies?
With World Rabies Day quickly approaching on Sept. 28, it’s a great time for you and your staff to remind clients that the risk of rabies infection is still out there and emphasize the importance of vaccinating pets. (Click here to download a client handout that explains the risks of rabies infection and how clients can protect their pets.) Dr. Ellen Gloor, an associate veterinarian at the KC Cat Clinic in Kansas City, Mo., has firsthand experience with the consequences of not vaccinating an animal and draws on that experience when speaking with clients about the disease and how it can be prevented.
“Years ago, when I was practicing in Tucson, Ariz., I saw a 5-month-old puppy who was brought into the clinic because he was pawing at his mouth and ‘fly-bite’ snapping in the air. The owner, who was temporarily fostering the dog and hadn’t brought him into the clinic before, thought he had something stuck in his mouth,” Dr. Gloor says. “We saw a lot of rabies and distemper in that area, so with the puppy’s neurological signs and lack of medical history, both diseases were on my list of differentials.”
Unfortunately, after persuading the owner to euthanize the dog and test for rabies, the results came back positive. “Not only did I need to receive post-exposure prophylactic vaccinations, so did all of the woman’s family and friends who had been in contact with the puppy,” Gloor says.
This example is usually enough to sway reluctant clients into vaccinating their pets against rabies—along with the reminder that it’s the law. But there are still times when some owners, particularly ones with strictly indoor pets, don’t take the bait. Dr. Gloor also warns people that wildlife, especially bats, can gain access into a house and pose a threat to both pets and people. “In the last year, we’ve had at least a dozen clients report a bat in their house,” she says.
Like Dr. Gloor, many veterinarians have a story about a case of rabies that could’ve been prevented with proper education and vaccination. In observance of World Rabies Day, take time this month to discuss the importance of rabies education and awareness with your clients—and do your part to safeguard their furry friends against this fatal disease.