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Rabies Christmas Links Back to OurayVet home


All warm blooded animals, can get rabies. Rabies is a virus that primarily attacks the nervous system. It is transmitted by saliva, usually through bite wounds but can also be contracted by contact with fresh blood. The virus is very unstable outside the host. So dried blood or saliva is not usually a concern. Wild life that carry rabies include bats skunk, raccoons, and foxes.

Incubation of rabies is very variable but the disease is usually seen within 2-8 weeks of exposure. The virus travels up the nerves of the bitten limb and the first signs are usually depression and biting at the site of the wound. Then the animal often goes into a ‘furious phase’ and changes in behavior, such as unusual aggression, are seen. Finally, paralysis of limbs and the mouth occurs ‘the dumb phase’. Death quickly follows. The only reliable test for the disease requires euthanasia and testing of the brain.

There is no effective treatment of animals showing nervous system signs and animals can shed virus in their saliva up to 10 days before showing signs. Because of this, the Public Health Services and State Health Departments recommend euthanasia of any unvaccinated animals that have been bitten by wildlife or other unvaccinated domestic animals. Alternately, an unvaccinated animal needs be quarantined for six months-which can be expensive and traumatic. If an unvaccinated stray animal bites a human being, it must be caught and euthanized for testing. A healthy vaccinated dog or cat with an owner may be quarantined for ten days and released if they show no signs during that time. Boosters should be given to all vaccinated animals who contact wild life. If you suspect that you have been exposed to rabies, you should contact your health care professional. There is post-exposure treatments available. Humans who contract the disease without treatment may die. As of this printing, the CSU Animal Diagnostic Lab is not aware of any rabies cases in domestic animals native to the Western Slope in the past 20 years. They do however occasionally see the disease in bats here and so the potential for disease in our pets is still very real.

Currently, The City of Ouray, the Town of Ridgway, and the County of Ouray all support a three year rabies vaccination and certification law for dogs and cats. Horses and cattle can also contract the disease but are not routinely vaccinated except in areas where the disease is common. Vaccination is effective for three years after the first booster at one year of age.

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Here are a few thoughts that I would like to share with you for the safety and comfort of our four legged friends over the holidays.

Mistletoe berries, are very poisonous. Although usually mistletoe today has plastic berries. Holly leaves and berries can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Pine needles may cause upset stomachs too. Traditionally it is thought that Poinsettia plants are very toxic to small animals. The most toxic varieties of poinsettia are from Hawaii and are not seen much in the states. Poinsettia varieties that are usually sold at holiday time are less toxic, but will cause irritation of the mouth, and perhaps vomiting. Some lilies however can cause kidney failure and death.

Tinsel, ornaments and electric wires can cause cuts, foreign bodies, and electrocution. Keep track of pets around holiday decorations and tie down loose wires. Besides electrocution, a pet may knock over a hot ornament and start a fire. Batteries can cause burns in the mouth and throat of dogs. Remember to pick up batteries that are not in use.

Chocolate although toxic, due to the caffeine and Theobromine it contains, is usually only deadly in large doses. Small amounts of milk chocolate (like that found in Whitman Sampler candies) will probably not kill your pet but will may give it an upset stomach and diarrhea. Since we all have enough to clean up after the holidays already it is probably best to keep all chocolate and sweets away from your pets. If your pet does eat a quantity of chocolate (four to six ounces of milk chocolate or one-half to one ounce of baking or semisweet chocolate per 10 pounds) induce your animal to vomit with hydrogen peroxide, a strong salt water solution, or a finger down its throat and call your veterinarian. While small amounts of alcohol in drinks won't cause a problem for pets. Three ounces of liquor in a 10-15 pound animal can depress its nervous system and stop its breathing. Again induce vomiting and call for veterinary assistance. Remember that antifreeze is deadly to dogs and cats yet tastes sweet so they are likely to drink it. This is a true emergency and you should waste no time getting your pet to a veterinarian. Discard all antifreeze in containers.

Table scraps, especially fatty foods can cause pancreatitis, vomiting, and diarrhea in small animals. A good rule of thumb is not to feed your pets anything off of the table. If they do desire treats from the table, have a dish of dog bones or pet vitamins close by and feed your pets those. They will feel like they are getting special treatment and you can feel good feeding them.

Rock salt as well can be irritating to your pets paws. When they come in from outside, check their feet and rinse their paws off if needed.

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Mar Vista Vet

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