(As published in Tygerburger newspaper.)

Fisantekraal Animal Welfare urges regularly having your pets vaccinated for rabies, which can be done by your veterinarian.

Rabies (hondsdolheid) strikes fear into people’s hearts and, indeed, it is a scary disease. Jennifer Davies, spokesperson for the Fisantekraal Animal Welfare, explains that, although rabies is endemic to South Africa, it is rare compared to other diseases – and it can be prevented.

“Rabies is caused by a virus which affects the brain and nervous system, causing severe encephalitis, resulting in brain damage and, eventually, death (in all but the rarest cases). There is no cure and prevention is the only way we have of beating it. And that means regular vaccinations for our furry friends.”

“Every year, several cases of rabies in animals, and around a dozen cases in humans, are diagnosed. This occurs mostly in rural areas in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and KwaZulu-Natal. Although rare in the Western Cape, there have been isolated cases in outlying places as recently as August 2017, and animal welfares in the Cape often come across dogs which have been brought here from KZN and Eastern Cape. In other words, no matter where you live, regularly vaccinating your pets is important. However, we stress that people should not panic – as the World Rabies Day slogan says: ‘Simple steps save lives’. Human vaccines are available but are prohibitively expensive and, unless you regularly work with animals and stay away from suspected rabies-infected animals, are not necessary.”

How do you catch rabies? Davies says, “Rabies is transmitted through saliva of an infected animal. In order to be exposed to the virus, you need to be bitten or licked (on an open wound or mucus membranes). Most cases of human rabies are from dog bites.”

How often should your dog or cat be vaccinated against rabies? “The SA Veterinary Council recommends vaccinating puppies and kittens with their third vaccination (at three months of age), and again within 12 months, preferably at 14 to 16 weeks but not sooner than 30 days after the first vaccination. Thereafter, a booster every three years. You can have a sample of your pet’s blood tested at your vet to determine their immunity levels.  Note that, according to the Animal Disease Act 35 of 1984, you are required by law to vaccinate your dog or cat against rabies.”

What should you do if you think an animal has rabies? “Rabid animals behave abnormally – pet dogs may become aggressive and wild animals become tame. They may also salivate (‘foaming at the mouth’) and avoid water (hydrophobia), be lethargic and refuse to eat. There is also a ‘dumb’ form (paralytic rabies) where the animal is depressed and non-responsive. However, people shouldn’t panic – not all animals with these symptoms have rabies! Overheating and dehydration, other more common illnesses, poisoning, and even fear can have similar symptoms – the whole picture needs to be taken into account.”

The key,” she says, “is the word ‘abnormally’. A dog which regularly bites people is behaving normally (although unacceptably);  biting when in pain or protecting their puppies/kittens is also normal. Wild animals normally run away from humans and would try to bite if you catch them. An animal which attacks for no obvious reason or is abnormally tame and has other signs of rabies and is in a known rabies endemic area could be infected and you should seek help immediately.”

She emphasises that you should not, under any circumstances, approach an animal suspected to have rabies and should contact the SPCA immediately for assistance . She also urges people to teach children never to approach any animal without asking the owner first and, if the owner isn’t there or it’s a wild animal, stay away.

People shouldn’t react out of fear or superstition, and kill animals for no reason, she says. “Rabies can easily be prevented and is relatively uncommon. You cannot get rabies from birds, rodents or rabbits, and the chances of catching rabies from a bat (a common fear) are next to nothing as they avoid humans.

Domestic dogs are the main source of human rabies infections and they invariably get it from wild animals like jackals, mongoose, and foxes because they haven’t been vaccinated. By vaccinating our pets and never approaching animals suspected to have rabies, the chances of actually getting it are virtually zero. Bottom line: get your pets vaccinated – it’s quick and makes a big difference.”

Please note: we cannot assist with vaccinating outside our area as we are a very small organisation with limited funds. We apologise that we cannot assist everyone, although we dearly wish we could!

For alternatives to a private vet, which we understand are pricey, you can contact the SPCA, Animal Anti-Cruelty League, or the Animal Welfare Society for assistance.

If you’d like to assist us with funding so that we can continue our outreach work in Fisantekraal, and rural areas, we would be eternally grateful! Even R20 helps! Nedbank
Fisantekraal Animal Welfare
Cheque account
Acc no: 1039094171
Branch no: 10 39 10 (Tygervalley)

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