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Young woman playing with her dog in a park.

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Rabies is a deadly disease with more than 5,000 cases of rabid animals spreading the disease to people nationally each year. To protect pets from this disease, owners should have their pets vaccinated. This will not only protect pets, but owners as well.

Carriers

The mammals that potentially carry rabies can vary depending on geographic location.

“In Alabama, 55 animals tested positive for rabies in 2018, 51 were positive in 2017 and 77 were positive in 2016.” Dr. Soren Rodning, a veterinarian with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System said.

The most common source of rabies in Alabama is raccoons. Other potential carriers of rabies are skunks, bats and even canines such as foxes.

“Most of these potential carriers are nocturnal and tend to be more active during night and early morning,” Rodning said. “If you encounter these animals during day time, and their behavior is unusual, avoid them, call animal control and as a last resort euthanize them.”

Signs and Prevention

“Rabid animals are sometimes more aggressive than normal, but they can also appear calm and less afraid of humans,” Rodning, who is also an associate professor in the Auburn University Department of Animal Sciences said. “The safe thing to do is avoid contact with wild animals; even animals that appear to be more friendly than usual.”

Rabies is nearly 100 percent preventable for pets that have the proper vaccines. Rabid animals spread the disease to people through exposures to saliva or nervous tissue from an infected animal.

“In most cases, preventing rabies is as simple as ensuring adequate animal vaccination and control,” he said. “It’s important to avoid contact with wild animals and educate people about steps that can help  minimize the potential risks associated with exposure to rabies.”

Leaving empty feeding and water bowls outside for a pet can attract stray animals. Garbage can also draw unwanted wildlife to your home and should be kept firmly concealed.

“Implement reasonable efforts to prevent contact between your pets or livestock and possible carriers of rabies,” Rodning said. “For farmers, woven and electric wire can exclude coyotes and stray dogs from pastures with livestock. Not allowing raccoons, skunks and opossums to set up in your residency is another important consideration.”

What to Do If Bitten

In the case of your pet biting someone or yourself being bitten, contact a physician immediately and report it to your county health department. Contact local animal control if the bite was from a stray or wild animal. Also, owners should take any pet bitten by a stray animal to a veterinarian immediately.

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