The warm weather is just about here, and that means the start of camping season. Lots of people love to spend time in the great outdoors during the summer, whether it’s at a summer cottage on the lake, trailer camping in a park with electricity and running water, or roughing it in a tent in the peace and solitude of a more remote wooded location. And many people bring along their faithful companions – their dogs – who enjoy the experience just as much, if not more, than we do.
But there are also dangers lurking in the forests – microscopic dangers carried by tiny insects and other bugs. Ticks in particular are problematic. Certain ticks can carry a number of diseases that can make dogs sick, including Lyme disease (caused by Borrelia burgdorferi) and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)(caused by Rickettsia rickettsii ). Both Lyme disease and RMSF are more common in certain areas where the tick species that carry them are present. You can NOT catch these diseases from your dog, but both you and your dog can be infected by the ticks that carry them. People can also be exposed to these pathogens by accidentally crushing an infected tick while trying to remove it from their dog. Ticks must be removed very carefully to ensure that the entire tick is removed, including the head and mouth pieces, without crushing it. If you're not sure how, contact your veterinarian. Also, the sooner the tick is removed, the less likely it is to transmit certain diseases, so be sure to check your dog thoroughly for ticks when you come back from a walk in the bush.
The Minnesota Department of Health recently reported that the number of cases of (human) Lyme disease increased in that state in 2007. This could be because of spreading tick populations, more people participating in activities in tick-inhabited areas, or increasing awareness and diagnosis of the disease by physicians.
If you and your canine companion will be spending time in some of the wilder and woodier parts of the great outdoors, talk to your veterinarian about what you can do to protect your dog. There are vaccines available for Lyme disease and the bacterial infection leptospirosis (which is also transmissible to people). Flea and tick preventatives are also very important, and many of today’s products are very effective. People should always wear insect repellent when camping or hiking in the woods. Visit the Health Canada website for safety tips on using personal insect repellents. All dogs should be vaccinated for rabies, whether they go camping in the backwoods or they’re house-bound city-slickers.
A recent issue of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report described a case of rabies in a person from Minnesota. This person died of rabies in 2007. Approximately one month before he became ill, he held a bat in his hands and felt a ‘pin-prick’. He didn’t see a wound or blood and assumed that he had not been bitten. Since neither he nor his family knew that this type of contact was actually considered rabies exposure, he did not seek medical attention. He died approximately 3 weeks after he developed rabies. Post-exposure rabies treatment would have almost certainly prevented his death.
- Never handle a bat
- Assume all bats are rabid until proven otherwise
- Any contact with a bat is considered to be rabies exposure unless the bat has been tested and shown to be negative. All bat exposures should be reported to the appropriate public health authorities.
- Despite all the old stories, rabies exposure treatment is not horrible…it’s just a series of shots in the arm.
- Vaccinate your pets. You never know when they’ll encounter a bat…inside or out.
More information on rabies is available in our Resources area.
In Beijing, 700 000 dogs have recently been vaccinated against rabies in order to combat the growing rabies epidemic there, and reduce the risks to people attending the 2008 Olympic games.
Unfortunately, rabies is common in China, with the number of cases increasing dramatically over the last decade. In 1996, there were 163 humans deaths due to rabies. This number increased to 3380 in 2007. Because of the seriousness of disease, the number of deaths and the low vaccination rate in dogs, a mandatory vaccination policy for dogs has been put in place. Free rabies vaccination is provided annually for each licensed dog. This could have a tremendous impact on the number of rabies cases, at least in certain regions. Control of rabies in rural areas is more problematic because of the lack of an organized registration and vaccination system for dogs in those areas. Perhaps not surprisingly, most cases of rabies occur in these rural regions.
So, the 2008 Beijing Olympics may have benefits for the dogs of China as well, or at least those in Beijing. This is certainly a preferred approach to the reports from last year of mass killing of thousands of dogs (including pets). Let's hope this progressive approach continues and the impact of this horrible disease decreases.
On a related note, the latest human death from rabies in Beijing was a person who was bitten by a stray dog two months before he became ill. He didn't seek medical attention at the time of the bite, he just cleaned the wound himself. If he had been treated for possible rabies exposure, he'd be alive today. While rabies is uncommon in many areas, no bite from an animal should be taken lightly. Rabies should always be considered and appropriate measures taken. More information about rabies is available in our Resources section.
Why should I vaccinate Fluffy, he's an indoor cat? (aka Why I'm glad I vaccinated Finnegan, my indoor cat)
Picture this. I’m driving home from the airport and get a call from my wife who’s locked in the bedroom with our kids because a bat is flying around the house. It’s not necessarily a big deal, except for the fact I thought I might have seen a bat in the house a couple days earlier, and a bat in a house with access to sleeping people = rabies exposure! I’ll save you the long but somewhat funny saga, and just say I eventually caught the bat. Our sigh of relief was short-lived, however, because it came back rabies positive. That meant we all needed rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (2 shots for Heather and I who have been vaccinated, but 6 shots for each of the kids). We also have a dog and cat, and they had to be considered exposed as well (the cat almost caught the bat). The cat, Finnegan, is an indoor cat but was vaccinated. The repercussions on the animals were much less than on us. However, if they had not been vaccinated, we would have had a problem.
Protocols for rabies exposure in non-vaccinated animals vary between jurisdictions, but long quarantines are the norm, and euthanasia often is chosen.
The take home message is, even with indoor-only animals….if you care about yourself, your family and your pets, vaccinate your pets against rabies. In most places it’s the law. It’s also good sense.