Other than zombies surrounding your home with the thought of eating your brain, nothing is more fear-inducing than a rabid dog or cat foaming at the mouth trying to transform your hand into a chew toy. Although there's no zombie vaccine, there is a rabies vaccine for your pets.
Why the fear? The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) describes rabies as a "viral disease that affects the brain and spinal cord of all mammals, including cats, dogs and humans." Rabies is responsible for the deaths of 50,000 humans and millions of animals worldwide annually. Reports of rabies have occurred in every state except Hawaii, where strict laws governing the import of animals are enforced. Once an animal shows signs of rabies, it's too late to do anything about it. The disease carries a nearly 100 percent fatality rate in animals.
How is the disease spread? Rabies is most often transmitted when an infected animal bites another animal or person. In rare cases, it's transmitted through saliva contact. Your cat or dog is especially susceptible when frequently in contact with wild animals, where rabies outbreaks can occur, or when unvaccinated dogs or cats roam the neighborhood. The ASPCA reports that cats are the most likely domesticated animal to contract rabies.
How can rabies be prevented? Vaccination is the key to preventing your pet from contracting rabies, and in some municipalities, the rabies vaccination is required by law. There is no treatment for an animal once it has contracted the disease.
When should your pet get the rabies vaccine? Most states require your dog or cat to receive its first vaccination by the time it is 4 months old. Many communities offer free rabies vaccination clinics. Contact your local animal shelter for more information. Your pet should receive its second shot, often called a booster shot, within one year of the initial rabies vaccination. Depending on the type of vaccine administered, your pet is required to receive a booster shot every one or three years thereafter.