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Zombie Pets? or Rabies

When a zombie bites another living being, its victim’s destiny is doomed. The victim loses complete control over its own body, becomes aggressive, drools, walks in an awkward manner, and finally dies.  The folklore has it that zombies multiply faster that they can be controlled, and can  quickly become an epidemic. For these reasons, it is strongly believed that the legends of zombies and vampires, stories that are shared among many cultures and are thousands of years old, are based on the rabies virus. In the 21st century, the rabies virus remains equally scary as we still lack a cure for humans or animals showing  symptoms of infection. Rabies is a deadly disease; the pet WILL  die. In spite of this, some  pet owners are hesitant to vaccinate their pets, thinking  they have no exposure to the virus. Let’s review the facts about the rabies virus so we can  get a basic understanding of why this is the most important vaccine your pet should ever have - aside from the fact that it is legally mandated.

   Rabies affects all mammals. Approximately 55,000 people in the world die of rabies every year. Ninety-nine percent of them become infected through a dog bite or a wound infected with saliva from a rabid dog. In the United States, however,  it's another story:  the main method of infection is through a bat bite, followed by cat bites. Why cats? Because cat owners are more hesitant to vaccinate their cats and in many counties it's not legally required to vaccinate cats against rabies. In February 2018, a six year old child died of rabies in Florida. He had found a baby bat on the ground and placed it in a bucket, to try to help him later. The boy did not realize that he had been bitten, since bat bites are very minor and not painful. Two weeks later, he began showing signs of rabies, and passed away despite the efforts of modern medicine. It is far more common for a dog or cat to find a bat lying on the ground and play with it. Other animals that can commonly transmit rabies are raccoons, foxes, skunks, and coyotes. Possums, rabbits, and squirrels seldomly carry the rabies virus. Farm animals are also susceptible.

After transmission, the rabies virus ascends to the brain through the nerve pathways. It causes inflammation of the brain leading to severe neurological symptoms,  such as extreme aggression, sensitivity to light and sound, water phobia ( painful muscular spams upon hearing or seeing water),  excessive saliva production, paralysis of the larynx and legs, paralysis of the respiratory system, and death. If a person seeking medical treatment has been bit by an animal that is suspected of having rabies, a series of vaccines would be given in an effort to try to prevent the virus from reaching the brain.These vaccines cost several thousands of dollars and must be administered before any signs of the disease are present. In other words, they must be administered at the slightest possibility of a rabies infection. If administered after signs are present, even after early subtle signs such as a headache or  tingling sensation at  the bite site, it would be too late to save the victim. If a pet is bitten, the story is different. Only one vaccine is administered and  the pet is placed under quarantine “to wait and see”. If signs of rabies develop, euthanasia is mandatory . 

Rabies is a real risk in the US. The vaccine against the rabies virus is safe  and available in a formulation that lasts three years. Declining  vaccination puts the pet, the owner, and their family in danger. Lets vaccinate our pets against the rabies virus, and keep zombies where they belong, in fiction.

M Sanchez-Emden DVM 

Certified Veterinary Journalist