Rabies is Still a Deadly Threat


Headline news over the weekend: South Caroline woman contracts rabies; first human case in that state in 50 years. This comes on the heels of hearing news from East Coast animal shelters that they’ve been seeing cases of rabies in cats. All in all, pretty alarming news. Today and in the U.S., most people take it for granted that rabies is a distant, old-timey threat, sort of like smallpox. But rabies has not been eradicated – far from it. It’s still common in wildlife, and a threat to any unvaccinated mammal who comes into contact with an infected species.

There is plenty of evidence that vaccination against rabies can cause health problems in a certain small percentage of sensitive individual dogs, and that, by law, the vaccination is over-administered to dogs. That’s one of the reasons we so avidly support the work of the Rabies Challenge Fund, which seeks to provide legitimate studies that could be used to help lobby for a change in state laws allowing for less-frequent vaccination. But none of this should be any justification for not vaccinating dogs.

I only mentioning this last line because I’ve been seeing frequent postings of articles about overvaccination followed by informal discussions or comments from people saying things like, “I don’t vaccinate any of my animals anymore, and they are far healthier for it!” That’s a dangerous position to take – and I’d guess, one with more potential for harm than overvaccination.

Of course we don’t want our dogs to be overvaccinated. But with rabies, no vaccination at all is worse. The disease is 99.9 percent fatal. And it’s staging a current comeback on our shores right now.