published Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Rabies vaccinations protect health

State law requires that all cats and dogs be vaccinated. Many pet owners obey the law, but many do not, thus putting their animals at risk of a deadly disease. The failure to vaccinate animals puts the public at risk for disease as well.

That’s because pets are more likely to come into contact with typical carriers of rabies — raccoons, foxes and bats — than humans. If a pet cat or dog is bitten by rabid wildlife, it will not get the disease if it has been vaccinated. If it has not been vaccinated, it is highly likely to get the disease and to pass it on. That’s a worrisome prospect.

Rabies, health officials say, is sometimes hard to detect in its early stages, when rabid animals often are free of signs of illness or the aggression that appear as the disease progresses. Thus, anyone who comes into casual contact with an infected animal — say from a lick on the hand that touches an scratch or sore — could get the disease. Vaccination breaks that transmission path.

Pet vaccinations, then, are vital to public — animal and human — health. Vaccinations are available year-round at veterinarian offices or at annual low-cost clinics held here each spring. The 2011 clinics are scheduled during the next two weeks.

Rabies clinics specifically for cats are planned at a variety of sites, mostly vets’ offices, from 4-6 p.m. on April 28. Clinics for dogs are scheduled at more than 40 sites on Friday and Saturday of this week, and on April 27, April 29 and April 30. A list of places, times and fee schedules for the clinics is available from vets’ offices, the Humane Educational Society, the McKamey Animal Center, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department and animal control centers.

Rabies is fatal to animals and to humans if it is not treated promptly. New treatments are available and experts say they are far less painful than earlier procedures. Still, avoiding exposure to a disease is the best preventative.

There were no reported rabies cases in Hamilton County in 2010. That’s no guarantee that will be the case this year or in the future, especially since many pet owners fail to obey the vaccination law or simply forget to protect their pets. The upcoming clinics are a reminder that compliance with the law can help protect animals and humans from harm.

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