The month of April is the time for all pet owners to take advantage of the reduced rates offered by our Marshall County veterinarians for vaccinations against rabies. Already this year there have been one dog and two skunks reported positive for rabies in Marshall County.
Rabies can affect all warm-blooded animals, including humans. The most common wildlife affected are skunks, foxes, raccoons and bats. Mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils are rarely a threat.
Bats pose a significant and unusual problem in that the person bitten might not even be aware of the bat's bite. If there is even the remote possibility of bat contact it should be taken seriously. For instance, if a bat were to get tangled in your hair, or be found in the house where children or adults were sleeping, you should consult your family doctor and the local health department for advice.
Signs that an animal may be rabid include nervousness, aggression, drooling and foaming at the mouth, and abnormal behavior in general, but these can be signs of other disorders as well.
There is no known cure for rabies. The prognosis is usually death if post-exposure treatment is not begun in a timely fashion. Post-exposure treatment is very costly ($1,000 or more), and is preventive medicine, not treatment for the disease.
If you are bitten or scratched by a domestic or wild animal, or if their saliva gets into an open wound you already have, immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least five minutes and get medical attention immediately.
If the animal has to be killed, or if it has died, it is important for accurate rabies testing that its head is not damaged. For rabies testing the head has to be removed by you or a veterinarian and given to the local environmental specialist.
He cannot accept the entire animal -- only the head, and it must be placed in a plastic bag and refrigerated or iced down, not frozen.
The transportation and testing of the specimen is paid for by the State of Tennessee.
The law requires you to take responsibility for vaccinating all pets. The consequences of owning an animal that bites a person are very serious. If your unvaccinated pet comes in contact with a rabid animal and you decide not to euthanize the pet (the recommended decision), a six months' quarantine is required. That's a long time and could be very expensive.
Any dog or cat, whether vaccinated or not, which has bitten someone must be confined for 10 days for observation, usually at a veterinarian's office or the rabies control pound.
If your unvaccinated pet bites an individual, your choices are not pleasant. You can quarantine the pet or euthanize it and submit the head for rabies testing.
If you can't locate your pet to confine it for the 10-day quarantine, or if the test results are positive, you could be faced with financial responsibility for the post-exposure treatment for the bitten person, not to mention other liabilities.
The Tennessee Department of Health, Marshall County veterinarians, and our Animal Control Units are asking the residents of this county to do the right thing -- the smart thing -- and the thing that is required by law: vaccinate all pets. Remember to avoid handling any suspect animals and do try to remove stray dogs and cats from the community.
If you have any concerns, please call the Marshall County Health Department, 359-1551; Marshall County Animal Control, 359-5948; or Chapel Hill Animal Control, 364-7632.