What you need to know about keeping your family, including your pets, safe from rabies

What you need to know about keeping your family, including your pets, safe from rabies

With the recent rabies outbreak in South Africa, pet owners are in a bit of a panic. Here’s what you need to know.

The recent outbreak of rabies in South Africa has pet owners running around in a panic, and rightfully so.

Rabies is a 100 percent preventable disease yet it kills 55 000 people around the world die every year. Several major health organisations including World Health Organization (WHO), World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) have pledged to eliminate human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies by 2030.

As pet parents, the first step we can take in helping to make this happen is to vaccinate our pets. Cats and dogs should be vaccinated against rabies at 3 months and then receive a booster 1 to 9 months later. Thereafter they should receive the vaccination annually unless your vet advises differently. In South Africa, it is law that pets are vaccinated against rabies and as a pet parent, it is your responsibility to ensure this happens.

However, in many cases, the real danger is in stray or feral pets and sadly it’s our children who are most at risk.

Rabies is transmitted most often by being bitten or scratched by an infected animal, however in rare cases it can even come from being licked by an infected animal. If you suspect that you have been infected you should immediately flush and wash the wound for a minimum of 15 minutes with warm water and disinfectant thereafter seek immediate medical attention. Advise the doctor of your suspicion as they will not only notify the relevant authorities but will also administer the correct treatment protocol. Unfortunately, if you wait to get medical attention and the rabies symptoms set in the disease will be fatal.

Dr Guy Fyvie, nutritional advisor at Hill’s Pet Nutrition SA provides some tips on how to stay safe during a rabies outbreak:

-Children under the age of 15 make-up 40 percent of the reported cases of being bitten by a suspected rabied animal, it is important to warn your children of the risks of interacting with strays and pets that are not theirs.

-Don’t ever take the chance. If bitten or scratched assume the worst and follow the treatment protocol. There is simply nothing that can be done once the symptoms present themselves.

-Ensure your pets rabies vaccinations are up to date and if you are in an immediate outbreak area have your pet revaccinated. If you can’t provide proof of a pet’s vaccination status, it may be euthanised if it comes into contact with an infected animal regardless of whether it shows symptoms or not.

-Do not let your pets roam the streets.

-Do not let your pets interact with unknown animals an animal can become infected by fighting with another, even over a fence.

-Do not approach stray dogs or cats (or wild animals) especially if they are showing abnormal behaviour such as being aggressive or very docile.

-If you suspect an animal is infected contact the health authorities immediately. Do not try to restrain the animal yourself.

-Make a donation to a welfare organisation that does rabies vaccination outreach programmes. The higher the vaccinated animal population, the less chance of an outbreak.

Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease and globally there has been a reduction in the number of human and animal rabies cases as a result of vaccination. Africa, Asia and Latin America have seen a recent increase in human rabies deaths and if not dealt with effectively rabies could once again become a serious public health pandemic.

“As pet parents, we should all be doing our part in helping to raise awareness and reduce rabies fatalities in South Africa,” concludes Dr Fyvie.

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