Dr. Robin Udoji of Seaport Animal Hospital educates us on Rabies and Rabies Prevention:
What is World Rabies Day?
Every year on the 28th day of September the world unites in the fight against rabies. The Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC), the sponsors of World Rabies Day, envisioned it as a day of activism and awareness. It is an opportunity for you to joint the global movement to put an end to suffering from rabies by organizing and taking part in World Rabies Day events. To participate go to http://rabiesalliance.org.
Key facts about rabies.
- More than 55,000 people a year, mainly in Africa and Asia, die from rabies. That is 1 person every 10 minutes that loses their life to rabies.
- 40% of the people who are bitten by a suspect rabid animal are children under the age of 15 years.
- Children are at greater risk because they are more likely to be bitten multiple times and suffer from severe exposure.
- Dogs are the source of the vast majority of human rabies death world wide.
- Bats are the source of most human rabies deaths in the Americas.
- In the United States, rabies is reported in cats more than any other domestic species.
- Rabies in humans is 100% preventable with prompt and appropriate medical care.
- Every year more than 15 million people world wide receive post exposure vaccines to prevent the disease, preventing hundreds of thousands of deaths per year.
What is Rabies?
- Rabies is a virus that may affect the brain and spinal cord of all mammals, including dogs, cats, and humans.
- Carriers: Raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes can be carriers of the virus. In New York City, raccoons, bats, cats and opossums are generally responsible for transmitting rabies.
- Transmission: Rabies virus is passed through a bite or a scratch from an infected animal. It can also be transmitted if saliva comes into contact with mucus membranes (i.e. lips, eyes) or an open wound.
- The Path of the Virus through the Body: Rabies travels from the site of the bite to the brain by moving within the nerves. The animal does not appear ill at this time. The incubation period (the time between the bite and the appearance of symptoms) is 2 weeks to 3 months but can be as little as 7 days to more than 1 year. Once in the brain, the virus multiplies causing inflammation of the brain. It then moves to the salivary glands and into the saliva. At this same time, most animal begin to show clinical signs of the disease.
- Clinical Signs of Rabies: Infected animals initially show extreme behavior changes such as restlessness, apprehension, and aggression. Friendly animals become irritable and normally excitable or wild animals become docile. There may be biting or snapping at any stimulus, attacking other animals, humans or inanimate objects. The animal will constantly lick, bite or chew at the bite site. Later in the disease process, fever and hypersensitivity to touch, sound and light develop. They may eat unusual things and hide in dark places. Paralysis of the jaws develops, leading to the characteristic “foaming at the mouth” symptom. Weakness, staggering, disorientation and seizures can develop. Sudden death can also occur. The infected animal usually dies within 7 days of becoming sick.
- Diagnosis: There is NO accurate test to diagnose rabies in live animals. The most accurate test to diagnose rabies requires brain tissue; therefor it can be only performed after the death of an animal, whether by natural means or euthanasia. There is NO test available to diagnose rabies in humans before the onset of clinical signs.
- Treatment: There is NO TREATMENT for rabies once symptoms appear. Since rabies is a serious public threat, animals who are suspected of having the virus are most often euthanized.
Distribution of Rabies
- Rabies has been found in all 5 boroughs of New York City.
- In the first half of 2014, 158 cases of rabies have been verified in New York State.
- Rabies is reported in every state except for Hawaii and every where throughout the world except for Australia and Antarctica.
Reducing the Risk of Contracting Rabies
- Avoid contact with wild animals. Do not feed or handle them even if they seem friendly.
- Unfamiliar animals seen as pets should be avoided because they often have contact with wild animals.
- Never pick up or touch a dead animal. The virus may still be present in the saliva or nerve tissue. Call Animal Control to pickup the body.
- Vaccinate your dogs and cats for rabies- it’s the law. In New York City puppies and kittens should get their first rabies vaccine between 3 and 4 month of age. They must receive a booster vaccine 1 year later and then every 1 to 3 years depending on the vaccine used. Even indoor cats and dogs are at risk if they escape outside or if a rabid bat enters your home.
- Protect your pet: Vaccinating your pet not only protects him but protects him if he bites someone. Cats and dogs that have bitten humans are required to be confined for 10 days to see if rabies develops. If the rabies vaccine is not up to date, a lengthy quarantine in a veterinary hospital or even euthanasia may be mandated.
- Spay and Neuter your pet. This reduces the number of unwanted stray animals who are often not vaccinated for rabies and are often in contact with wild life. Contact animal control to remove stray animals.
- Maintain control of your pet. Keep cats and ferrets indoors and dogs under direct supervision and on a leash.
Public Health in New York City
- What if your pet is bitten by a wild animal or another animal that might have rabies?
- If the biting animal can be captured by animal control, call 311 to see if it can be tested for rabies.
- Contact your veterinarian immediately.
- If your pet is current on its rabies vaccine, it will receive a booster vaccine. You will then have to confine your pet to your home for 45 days.
- If your pet is unvaccinated, it must enter 6 month quarantine in a veterinary hospital.
- If your pet is suspected of having rabies, euthanasia may be mandated.
- What if your pet bites someone?
- Give your contact information to the person bitten; and then confine and monitor your pet in your home for 10 days (even if your pet is vaccinated.) The New York City Department of Health will contact you.
- If your pet does not show signs, the person bitten will not need shots to prevent rabies.
- What should I do if I am exposed to rabies?
- If you are bitten by a wild or stray animal or you are exposed to a bat, contact your doctor immediately.
- If the animal tests positive for rabies or can’t be tested, you may need to get shots to prevent rabies.
- The rabies prevention shot is called Rabies Immune Globulin (RIG) which is injected at the bite site. There is also a series of rabies shots given over a 2 week period.
or call 311.
We recently wrote to our dog owners regarding the spread of canine influenza within Lower Manhattan. We wanted to follow up by speaking more about respiratory infections in dogs. Dr. Kristin Lester of our Seaport Animal Hospital expands upon this:
There you are, lying in bed, dreaming of taking little Fifi to the dog park the next day when through the darkness you hear the first muffled sounds of your beloved one starting to cough… Is this merely a nightmare? Or could it be… the dreaded Kennel Cough?!? You’ve heard about this disease, but wonder what it is, how it is transmitted, and what to do about it. The good news is that we are here to help arm you with information and take care of Fifi, so you both can rest peacefully.
Infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as Canine Contagious Cough Complex or “kennel cough,” is caused by a collection of highly contagious respiratory pathogens, not just Bordetella. In fact, multiple infectious organisms may be involved in a single case, including Bordetella bronchiseptica, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus type 2, distemper virus, influenza virus, herpesvirus, mycoplasma canis, respiratory coronavirus, pneumovirus, and canine reovirus. Bordetella bronchiseptica can also infect cats, rabbits and pigs. Rarely, kennel cough can be spread to humans; however there have only been a handful of cases and it is typically only a risk with severely immunocompromised people. Canine influenza, an uncommon contributor to kennel cough syndrome, typically causes much more severe disease with fever and pneumonia, but can start with the classic signs of coughing.
Kennel cough can occur year-round and the incubation period, time it takes from exposure to onset of symptoms, is 2 to 14 days. Dogs typically only show clinical signs for 1-2 weeks, but infected animals can continue to shed the organism via respiratory secretions for up to 3 months. Young, stressed, crowded or debilitated animals are more susceptible than adults. Furthermore, compromised respiratory health secondary to heavy dust, cigarette smoke, cold temperature and/or poor ventilation can also make animals more prone to infection. Infection is spread via animal-to-animal contact, aerosolized respiratory secretions or inanimate objects that get “blessed” by an infected animal. A single sneeze from Fifi can cover up to 20 feet from her cute pink nose!
Clinical signs in dogs typically include an acute-onset, non-productive, dry, hacking cough, with coughing fits occasionally ending in a terminal retch (that white foamy material that is brought up at the end of a hack). In addition to a cough, cats can develop sneezing and discharge from the nose and eyes. While typically limited to the upper respiratory tract, kennel cough can occasionally spread to the lower airways resulting in pneumonia. Uncomplicated upper respiratory cases typically do not entail a fever, poor appetite or significant lethargy, so these are important signs for which to watch when monitoring for progression to pneumonia.
If your dog or cat is coughing, it is important to bring them in to be evaluated by your veterinarian. Often times, the diagnosis of kennel cough can be made based on history and physical exam. Depending on exam findings, severity of signs or chronicity, your veterinarian may recommend chest x-rays to screen for complicating pneumonia and/or obtaining respiratory samples for infectious disease confirmatory tests to identify the exact combination of involved infectious agents to help guide therapy and gauge prognosis. The treatment for kennel cough often involves a course of antibiotics +/- other supportive care as needed based on severity and symptoms. Antibiotics will not help if the infectious agents are purely viral, but they will help prevent or treat secondary infection. As stated, it’s often times a combination of multiple infectious agents in a single case of kennel cough!
Vaccination is available for a number of the kennel cough organisms (Bordetella bronchiseptica, canine adenovirus type 2, canine parainfluenza virus, canine distemper, and canine influenza), but not all can be prevented. The canine influenza vaccination is especially recommended for dogs that travel to dog shows, race tracks or other high density areas, or if there is a documented case in the area. It is important to note that vaccination is NOT useful in a dog already incubating kennel cough. If you plan on boarding your dog and more than 6 months have passed since the last Bordetella vaccination, ideally booster that vaccine at least 5 days prior to boarding. As for canine influenza, if your dog has never had that vaccine, the initial vaccine MUST be followed by a booster in 3-4 weeks to provide any protection, and even so, protective immunity does not develop until at least 7-10 days after the SECOND vaccination. Furthermore, it may not fully prevent infection, but often times it can lessen the clinical signs and duration associated with disease. Recovering dogs that contracted kennel cough are typically immune to reinfection for 6-12 months afterward (assuming the same pathogens are involved with the repeat exposure).
If there is an outbreak in your area, but your dog is not yet showing symptoms, there are a couple things that may help keep Fifi healthy. First, ensure that the Bordetella vaccination is up to date (every 6 months), but remember that the vaccination will not help if your dog is already incubating the disease. Avoid contact as much as possible with potential sources of infection and ensure that your dog is otherwise as healthy as possible (not stressed or sick from something else) and ready to fight off the invading pathogen if exposed. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, including but not limited to coughing, lethargy, decreased appetite, fever, etc, please bring Fifi in to be examined sooner rather than later to minimize the risk of serious disease developing.
My sincere wishes for the health and happiness of all your furry family members. Until next we meet, keep well and enjoy the rest of your summer.
Dr. Kristin Lester
Seaport Animal Hospital
Note on Allergies from Dr. Kerry McLaughlin
What are allergies?
Allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to substances that normally cause no reaction in the majority of individuals.
Allergies in people vs pets:
In people, the most common signs of allergies are hay fever (sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes). However, in pets, the most common presentation is itchy skin (although we do occasionally see hay fever-like signs, allergic bronchitis, and asthma in our pets).
Three are 3 main categories of allergies in pets. Each of these has a characteristic age of onset, distribution of skin irritation, and treatment.
1) Environmental (Atopy)
2) Food allergy
3) Flea allergy dermatitis
Environmental Allergies (Atopy):
Signs are usually seasonal but can be year-round depending on what your pet is allergic to. The most common age of onset is between 1-3 years of age, although age of onset can range from 6 months to 7 years. The most common pattern of skin irritation is in areas where the hair is sparse and the area stays moist: armpits, groins, ear canals, muzzle, around the eyes, around the anus, and the conjunctiva.
Allergy testing is used to identify specific allergens for the making of allergy vaccines. The procedure is very similar to what is done in people. For intradermal (skin) testing, a variety of different allergens are used including air-borne allergens (such as pollen, ragweed, etc), indoor allergens (such as dust mites, mold), and common insects. Patients are usually sedated for this procedure, a small amount of allergen is injected into the skin, and the response to the injection is monitored and graded. The allergens that produce the greatest response are then used in the formulation of an allergy vaccine, which is customized for each patient. The vaccines are usually given 1-2 times weekly in the beginning of treatment and then the frequency of administration is decreased to once every few weeks. Allergy vaccines improve clinical signs for 50-80% of dogs, but response can take anywhere from 3-18 months!
Other treatments for environmental allergies include the use of antihistamines (such as Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin, etc) and medications which suppress the immune system (such as Atopica (cyclosporine)).
The component of pet food that pets are usually allergic to is the protein source. In dogs the most common proteins implicated are beef, dairy products, and wheat. In cats the most common culprits are beef, dairy products, and fish. The age of onset ranges from 3 months to 13 years (with a mean age of 2-4 years in dogs). As a general rule, think about food allergy in extremely young and older patients with non-seasonal itchiness! Be suspicious of food allergies in patients that have skin disease and are also having gastrointestinal signs such as diarrhea, vomiting, or flatulence.
What most owners find difficult to understand is that most patients will develop an allergy even after they have been eating the particular diet for months to years. The distribution of skin irritation is not incredibly different from seasonal allergies, although some patients will have worse issues in the ear canals and around the anus (“ears and rears”).
Food trials: This should be done with a prescription diet that contains either a novel protein (a protein that your pet has never been exposed to before such as kangaroo, venison, duck, etc) OR a hydrolyzed protein (protein that is broken down into such small particle sizes that it is not recognized by the immune system). It is very important that a prescription diet is used for the food trial, as they are the only diets that are guaranteed to contain ONLY the ingredients listed on the product information. The diet should be fed for a minimum of 8 weeks to determine whether or not it will improve the clinical signs. During this time period the pet can be fed ONLY the prescription diet with no outside treats or flavored medications (such as Heartgard chewables). If there is a positive response to the food trial, then the animal may be able to switch over to a cheaper over the counter diet.
Food allergy myths: (from veterinarypartner.com)
Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD):
At one time this was the most common allergic skin disease in dogs and cats. However, with the advent of newer and improved flea preventative products we are seeing this type of allergy less commonly. The allergic reaction occurs in response to the saliva of the fleas, which is deposited into the wounded skin as the flea feeds.
There is no age, sex or breed predisposition with this type of allergy. The most common presentation is itchiness and a rash over the back end of the body (base of the tail, back of the hind legs, and groin areas).
Very importantly, findings fleas or flea dirt on your pet are not necessary for a diagnosis! An allergic animal can respond to even a single flea bite with a severe reaction. In addition, pets (especially cats) can be very successful in removing them by scratching or ingesting them and making it difficult to find fleas on exam.
Treatment of FAD involves treating the patient with a flea preventative (with a prescription product such as Frontline, Revolution, Vectra, Sentinel), treating any secondary bacterial infections, treating all housemates, and treating the home.
Finally, it is important to realize that some pets may be suffering from one, two, or all three of the forms of allergies discussed above! If your pet is showing any signs of itchy skin such as scratching, excessive licking, paw chewing, or head shaking we recommend you have him or her evaluated by a veterinarian!
New York is great in the spring, probably the best time of year here, in my opinion. The bitter chill of winter is a fading memory and we haven’t yet been bombarded with the 95 degree, 80% humidity days of July and August. It’s a time to delight in the sunshine and promise of warmer days to come, and well, just spend some good ol’ quality time outside! For many of us, we get to share this good fortune with our four legged friends. Even my three cats, while they don’t get free rein of the wild outdoors, they do get some great kitty outdoor time as they stretch out for a springtime snooze in the sun on our gated balcony. While it is a time to celebrate Mother Nature, spring is also a time to make sure our furry companions are protected against common springtime hazards.
Parasite prevention is critical year-round, not only for the health of our dogs and cats but also from the perspective of public health as some of these parasites can be transmitted to humans. Given the mildness of this past winter (read: idyllic blessing and repose from harsh winters-past, in my humble opinion), this spring and summer promise to delivery higher loads of pesky “bugs” (parasites, viruses, bacteria, mosquitoes, ticks, fleas) normally knocked back in numbers by cold weather. Therefore, we should be extra diligent to ensure our cats and dogs are adequately protected. All cats and dogs should receive heartworm prevention (yes, even indoor cats – face it, your apartment is not a impenetrable biosphere), gastrointestinal parasite protection (again, even indoor cats can be exposed if we inadvertently bring microscopic eggs in on our shoes, for example) and based on lifestyle and exposure, flea and tick prevention.
Spring is also a good time to update your pets’ vaccinations, which will be individually tailored based on lifestyle and risk of exposure to common bacteria and viruses. The ASPCA has a wonderful website dedicated to Springtime Safety Tips. I highly recommend taking the time to read this info-packed article, especially the links to poisonous plants and home chemicals. Finally, among other things, springtime also brings the increased likelihood of allergies and traumatic events (scuffle at the dog park, plant parts in paws, etc). Bottom line: we’re here to help. Check out our Pet Care & Resources page for tips on common health issues as well as general wellness care for dogs and cats including vaccination recommendations. Or, better yet, stop on by our hospital to check our our new digs and say hello in person! Thanks for reading, and I look forward to meeting you and your furry family members.