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Rabies Concern: Hesitancy Among Pet Owners Sparks Potential Resurgence


Concerns over Vaccinating Dogs: A Dangerous Trend

The Dangers of Rabies

Hesitancy around vaccines has spilled over to pet owners in recent years, sparking concern about the resurgence of rabies, a virus that’s nearly always fatal.

The Importance of Vaccination

Some pet owners argue against vaccinating dogs – over concerns that vaccines shorten the canines’ lifespans or beliefs that vaccines can cause autism in dogs. But autism’s spectrum of symptoms is uniquely human and experts say anti-vaxxing campaigns among dog owners are especially dangerous considering the public health consequences of rabies.

“While, thankfully, we don’t see a lot of rabies, the consequence is disastrous,” said Dr. Rena Carlson, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “It’s essentially 100% fatal. So having a rabies vaccine for your cat and dog is really, really important on many levels.”

The Importance of Consultation

Carlson stressed how important it is for people to talk with their veterinarians about the vaccine and the risks a pet faces if it does not get vaccinated.

The Severe Nature of Rabies

Rabies spreads when an infected animal bites or scratches someone, invading mammals’ nervous systems. The virus becomes especially dangerous when it reaches the brain. The incubation period can last days or more than a year.

When rabies enters the brain, it causes flu-like symptoms that cause animals to become rabid, and develop brain swelling. The disease becomes fatal when an infected person or animal suddenly loses breathing and heart function.

Concerning Trends in Canine Vaccine Hesitancy

Matt Motta, an assistant professor at Boston University School of Public Health, calls it a “spillover effect” among people hesitant about human vaccines, a population that ballooned during the COVID-19 pandemic. He worries that “canine vaccine hesitancy” could grow in states that mandate rabies vaccines. If those laws are dismantled, it would threaten decades-old health initiatives that have proven successful.

Addressing Misinformation

Motta and his sister, Dr. Gabriella Motta, a Pennsylvania veterinarian, published a 2023 study that found that nearly 40% of U.S. dog owners believe canine vaccines are unsafe. About 37% of owners thought their dogs could develop autism from vaccination.

The reality, Motta says, is the rabies vaccine is safe. About two in a million dogs get severe complications from a vaccine.

Dog autism isn’t a recognized condition, the AVMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told USA TODAY.

The Threat to Public Health

Motta warns that the refusal to vaccinate pets poses a public health threat. It not only endangers the pets themselves but also puts humans at risk.

Continuing Successful Health Initiatives

Health officials have worked for decades to eradicate canine rabies, utilizing successful public health campaigns including leash laws, animal shelters, and vaccinations. While there are few rabies deaths in the U.S., it is important to recognize the risk rabid animals still pose to both humans and pets.

The Importance of Vaccination Compliance

There doesn’t appear to be a significant drop-off in canine rabies vaccinations, despite some pet owners expressing vaccine hesitancy. Mandates requiring dog vaccination in most states are still largely followed.

The Need for Vigilance

Despite the successful efforts in reducing rabies cases, it is crucial to remember that rabies still circulates among wild animals. Prompt vaccination and responsible pet ownership remain key in protecting both pets and humans from the deadly virus.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a veterinarian or other qualified health provider for specific questions concerning your pets’ health and well-being.

Published: April 7, 2024, 09:03 GMT | Updated: April 7, 2024, 09:03 GMT

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