Many people believe rabies to be an elusive, rare virus that’s only found in the heavy northern bush but rabies is actually all around us! In fact, 288 cases of rabies were confirmed in Ontario in 2016, a large proportion of which were found in the west GTA. Rabies is a virus that’s spread to any mammal through the saliva of an infected animal. Despite popular belief, you don’t have to be bitten by a rabid animal to become infected; merely having the infected saliva contact any mucus membrane (like your eyes, nose, or mouth) or open cut is sufficient to contract the virus.
Once the virus is contracted, it targets the central nervous system, causing a wide array of damage until death results. The condition cannot be diagnosed before signs appear, making the virus particularly devastating. Signs of the virus don’t appear right away; it can take months for the virus to take over the nervous system. In animals, once the virus takes over, the most common signs are: lethargy and depression; abnormal facial expressions; paralysis in some parts of the body; unusual friendliness, excitement, or aggression; and self-trauma. You should take notice of wildlife wanting to interact with humans or becoming more active during the day.
In Ontario, the most common source of rabies infections comes from bats but raccoons and skunks are the front-runners of being infected with the virus. In an effort to control the spread of rabies among wildlife, Ontario engages in vaccine baiting programs. These programs drop vaccine-containing food bait around the province where rabies is detected. Once ingested the animal is immunized against rabies.
Despite Ontario’s best efforts, however, rabies remains a constant threat. After being undetected for five years, “fox-strain rabies” was identified in Ontario in 2016. This news is disconcerting to say the least. Because the virus has the real possibility of infecting humans, the virus is considered a serious public health concern. Vaccinating against rabies is a very effective way to protect our pets against contracting the virus. In light of this, the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act, Regulation 567 requires all pet owners to keep their animals vaccinated against rabies. For more information about rabies in Ontario, please visit: https://www.ontario.ca/page/rabies-wildlife. If you have concerns about your pet’s risks or vaccines in general, please contact our clinic today!