How Do I Protect Myself and My Pets from Rabies?

You may think that just because it’s 2013, that Rabies is a thing of the past.  While it’s true that through township and statewide mandatory vaccination practices the occurrence of the virus is much less common than before, Rabies is still no laughing matter.

Protect Myself and My Pets from Rabies

Just this week, the Asbury Park Press released a news story about a family in Manalapan, NJ who took home a kitten from a feral colony.  According to the story, after 2 weeks of having the kitten in their home, it became lethargic and was taken to the veterinarian where it was examined and euthanized.  Rabies testing showed the kitten was positive for the virus, resulting in 12 people who had been exposed to the kitten needing treatment for Rabies.  If you don’t know, the treatment consists of 4 vaccinations that cost thousands of dollars.  To read more about the story, visit

Additionally, the NJ Department of Health’s Communicable Disease Service’s website on Animal Rabies Cases shows a detailed list of confirmed Rabies positive animals in each of the state’s counties.  According to the site from January 1, 2013 – September 30, 2013, there have been 244 confirmed cases in NJ.  With 24 confirmed cases, Ocean County ties Burlington County with the most cases in the state so far this year.  To see the chart, click here.

While most confirmed cases are of wildlife, it is still something pet parents should be aware of.  Unless you live in a moat surrounded castle, wildlife is a part of every neighborhood.  Think about raccoons, skunks, and opossums to name a few.

The Rabies virus is passed through contact with saliva.  That means a direct bite or if the saliva contacts an open wound, eyes, or other mucous membranes.

Tips to Protect Yourself and Your Pets:

  • Take any newly adopted, rescued or abandoned animal you acquire to the vet as soon as possible.  The pet may not be showing signs of illness but it is best to leave those determinations up to a trained veterinarian.  A clean bill of health is always a good thing.
  • Follow your veterinarian’s Rabies vaccination or titer suggestions – your town is going to require proof of a current rabies vaccine anyway.  Yes, if you have an elderly pet, your veterinarian may choose to write a letter of exemption.  Again, that is up to your veterinarian’s discretion and is typically determined on a case by case basis.
  • Most towns usually have a free Rabies clinic once a year.  Do you get where I’m going here?
  • Always have your pets under your supervision.  You need to be able to make sure they don’t come into contact with any wildlife, which can especially happen at night.
  • Make sure you put your garbage and recycling into sturdy cans with lids that lock on to deter raccoons and other animals from feeding in your yard.
  • Check all your window screens to ensure there are no holes.  Make sure chimneys are capped.  Make sure to patch any holes in your fence.
  • If you see any animals in your yard who appear to unable to walk, seem very thin or just don’t look healthy, keep your pets inside and call Animal Control.

What should I do if my pet is exposed to a wild animal

What should I do if my pet is exposed to a wild animal?

If your pet should chase down a skunk or get into a fight with an opossum, it is best to call your veterinarian right away.  Typically, your vet will look at your pet’s vaccination history to determine how long it’s been since their last Rabies vaccine.  They may determine that your pet should be seen for a physical exam to make sure there are no bite wounds and to booster the vaccine.

What should I do If I am exposed to a wild animal?

If you should find a bat in your home or have another close encounter with an animal who may carry the virus, you should wash all wounds immediately with soap and water and then call Animal Control, your doctor and the Health Department to report it.

How Will I Know if My Pet Has Rabies?

Unfortunately, there is no test for rabies in live animals.  The only conclusive test must be done on the brain tissue of the deceased animal.  However, if your pet has had contact with a potentially infected animal and becomes lethargic, loses weight, experiences loss of coordination, becomes paralyzed or becomes uncharacteristically aggressive, you should call your veterinarian.



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