By Dr. Gino Sementa November 02, 2016


If you are a dog owner, you get a reminder card and email every 3 years to booster Spike’s rabies vaccine. If you have cats running around your house, those reminders come on an annual basis.  You know your pet needs an up to date rabies vaccination to be properly licensed.  You know rabies is bad.  After all you saw Cujo as a kid and it scarred you for life.  But do you actually know what rabies is?  Have you thought about the real dangers this severe disease possesses?  Have you ever come across a rabid animal?  Is this vaccine really that important?  (Yes, yes it is).   Do you think it is crazy that the law mandates all pets be vaccinated for rabies?  This exact question was asked to me recently during a routine office call.  It immediately prompted me to write this newsletter to help pass along more information.  And the answer to that question is an emphatic NO. It is NOT ridiculous the law mandates pets be vaccinated against rabies.  And here is why.

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a lyssavirus from the Rhabdovirus family. It is an enveloped,  RNA type virus, shaped like a bullet. And as dangerous as a bullet, it is.  Rabies causes an acute encephalomyelitis and is fatal 100% of the time, once clinical symptoms begin to show.

How Is Rabies Spread?

The vast majority of cases of rabies are acquired through a bite from a rabid animal.  Contact of mucous membranes with infected saliva, spinal fluid, brain tissue or salivary glands can also spread the disease. The most common wildlife species that spread rabies in North America are the raccoon, bat, skunk, fox and coyote. Once an animal or person is bitten by a rabid animal, the virus gets deposited into the tissues then travels along the nerves to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) where it replicates (reproduces).  It then migrates back to the salivary glands to be passed along to yet another animal through a bite wound.


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The incubation period, (or time from being infected to showing symptoms) can be anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months.  The further away the initial bite was from the brain, the longer the incubation period, since the virus has a longer distance to travel in the body. Once the virus reaches the brain, symptoms will begin to show. Most dogs will show symptoms 21-80 days after being bitten, but various lengths of times have been noted.  Once an animal is showing symptoms of rabies, they are already highly contagious and ready to spread the virus.

What Are the Signs of Rabies?

Prodromal Stage: the first 1-2 days of symptoms. Personality changes noted. Nocturnal animals walking around in daylight. Animals scared of humans will be more in public spaces, friendly animals become shy. Vocal changes may be noted. Excessive scratching or licking at initial bite wound.

Excitative Stage: Next 2-7 days. The “mad dog” stage. The animal shows no fear, hallucinations are common. Attacking random objects or other animals. Very excitable. Increased salivation and possible seizures.


Paralytic Stage: Last 2-4 days. Progressive paralysis of the pharynx, lower motor neurons. Inability to swallow (“foaming at mouth”). Respiratory paralysis and death.

The biggest note here is once an animal or human shows signs of rabies, there is no known treatment, and death will occur. So yes, this is why vaccinating ALL pets for rabies is important. It is not just important to the health and well being of your furry friend, but also to every human who comes into contact with your pet.  We have all seen raccoons, or skunk or foxes in our neighborhoods. How many people have had bats in their homes? I personally know quite a few.  So the wildlife who pass along rabies, are around our homes, our children, our pets, all of the time. And is rabies still prominent? Well in 2014, there were over 6000 reported cases of rabid animals across the US. So yes, cases are still very much out there.

Check the CDC’s 2014 Rabies Surveillance Report:


Prevention is Best!

We are strongly in favor of vaccinating ALL animals against rabies virus. This disease is a severe, fatal disease that has a great public health concern. As Veterinarians, it is our primary duty to protect the public from zoonotic diseases (disease transmissible from animals to people), of which, rabies is THE most severe.

All pets seen at Webster Veterinary Clinic for routine or elective procedures must be vaccinated for rabies, or we will not continue to see them. This is to protect all pets that come to Webster Veterinary Clinic, our entire staff, and the public.  The initial vaccine for dogs is good for 1 year, with each subsequent vaccines lasting for 3 years. For our feline patients, we use a recombinant vaccine which has been shown to produce less reactions in cats. The tradeoff is that cats need to be vaccinated on a yearly basis.

If you are not sure if your pet is up to date on his or her rabies vaccination, please call us and we will let you know. This disease is a severe, fatal, highly contagious, zoonotic disease. We have to be the first line defense to help stop the spread!


As a reminder, November is Senior Wellness month here at Webster Veterinary Clinic!  All pets over 8 years of age are considered senior pets. We recommend all senior pets have Senior Wellness Profile testing on an annual basis to check internal health. We run a complete blood count (CBC), full chemistry panel (27 different enzymes, proteins and electrolytes) and a full urinalysis.  WE ARE OFFERING 20% OFF THE COSTS OF THESE TESTS,  just in the month of November!

If your pet has just recently turned 8, or maybe they are do for this years test, please cal lour office to schedule. No office call is required if your pet has been seen in the last year and is up to date on vaccines.

We look forward to keeping your senior pets happy and healthy for as long as we can!

If you missed our last newsletter, check it out here –



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