Petdom’s No. 1 Problem: Rabies

by Dr. Herb Friedman

The disease that scares veterinarians, public health officials and governments the most is undoubtedly Rabies. This is the rationale that dictates the sometimes severe quarantine procedures that are enforced in many countries in the world.

Many countries, such as the U.S. and most of Europe, have no quarantine regulations for pet animals enter­ing the country (except for birds that may harbor psittacosis). Other countries, such as Japan, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, have a moderate quarantine rang­ing from two weeks to one month. Lastly comes the Commonwealth with quaran­tine periods ranging from six months to one year (Australia)—the one excep­tion being Canada with a short and relatively liberal quarantine.

Most countries insist that Rabies vaccination be com­pleted within a certain period of time before the animal arrives at destina­tion. The vaccination itself is their strongest safeguard against a Rabies epidemic. Other countries, with the long quarantines, usually do not require vaccination against Rabies (they will themselves vaccinate all in­coming animals) and do not vaccinate in their own countries because of the fear of a break in the vaccine that may be the starting point, the instigator of a Rabies epidemic.

This is purely academic because when your pet leaves Japan for any desti­nation, it will need a Rabies vaccination in order to leave Japan. Just to reiterate, dogs leaving Japan require EXPORT RABIES CERTI­FICATES but cats do not because the Japanese don’t vaccinate cats against Rabies and therefore there is no registration of cats in this country.

The damn thing about Rabies is that so few veterinarians, both here and in the Western world, have ever seen a live and in-the-flesh case of the disease. It is no slur against the good veterinarians in the Animal Quarantine Section, but they probably couldn’t diagnose a case of Rabies if it walked in the door and bit them. The last case of Rabies in Japan occurred in July, 1956, and there hasn’t been one seen since; most of the young veterinarians in Ja­pan were children at that time.

This is also true of young veterinarians in the U.S.— there are relatively few cases seen in pet animals and therefore most of the younger vets have never seen the disease save for films or slides or pathology slides of the pertinent parts of the nervous system. And when one fully realizes just how final Rabies is, this ignorance is definitely some­thing every veterinarian feels pretty happy about.

Rabies is transmitted from animal to animal by means of a bite or by saliva containing the virus. The presence of Rabies virus in the saliva can precede recognizable symptoms of the disease by several days. The incubation period of Rabies is generally considered to be from 15 to 40 days but may be as long as three months but (Australia, please take note) never lasts as long as six months or one year.

The disease is found in dogs, cats, man, cattle, horses, mules, skunks, foxes and vampire bats. Symptoms are basically non-specific for the first two days but after that time, one may note the onset of irritability and paralysis. After the disease reaches the brain, prostration, coma and death usually follow within two to three days.

In most domestic animals, two forms of the disease are seen; the dumb or paralytic form and the furi­ous form in which animals lose all of their natural in­hibitions and will attack anything in their paths. Whereas man will show hydrophobia, animals do not. In both man and animals, confinement is necessary and the fatality rate is virtually 100%. The way of death is perhaps the most agonizing in terms of pain, mental derrangement and total loss of function.

Wherever you are, if you or any member of your family (including the family pet) is bitten by a strange animal WITHOUT PROVOCATION, you should search for this animal or his owner and have the animal put under observation for a 10-day period. At least, seeing evidence that the animal has been vaccinated according to law will give you peace of mind that the odds favor­ing Rabies are very slight.

Another disease that doesn’t worry as nearly as much but still causes all sorts of problems for veteri­narians is kennel cough. This disease has been ac­credited to many organisms in the past and only recent­ly has research pinpointed it as a virus in the parain­fluenza complex. Usually the disease is mild and disappears in from 10 days to two weeks when the animal is covered by antibiotics to guard against pneumonia.

In a young puppy or older debilitated animal, the disease can be very severe indeed and can on occasion be fatal. This disease is spread from dog to dog via aerosol: it is particularly worrisome wherever many animals are kept together such as in veterinary hospitals, kennels, pet stores, and large indoor dog shows. Symptoms are a mild fever which can become not so mild if complications set in. nasal discharge, sore and reddened tonsils, and a harsh exhausting non-productive cough. There is now a very good vaccine avail­able for this disease which is available in the U.S. but not yet tested in Japan.