Why Rabies Vaccination is a Whole Other ... Animal

I just read about a pet cat in BC that was euthanized after it was found playing with a bat. 

The bat was caught, euthanized and sent for testing. It came back positive for rabies. The cat was not up-to-date on rabies vaccinations and the owners could not afford to board the cat for the 90 day quarantine that was required*. That only left government-mandated euthanasia - the government has no flexibility with these rules. 

This is really sad - they had kids which makes this suck that much more - and illustrates one of the reasons why I encourage vaccination, including rabies vaccination. I won’t get into the over-vaccination debate here, as rabies vaccination is a whole other ... well ... animal.

* This can be expensive: $40-$50 per day is not uncommon, so quarantine could have cost the owner $4,000 or more

Rabies Virus
What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a virus that is passed in the saliva of infected animals and enters the blood of its victim via any route it can (e.g. through a bite wound or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, etc.)). Once in the blood, it enters the nerves and uses them as a freeway to get to the brain and salivary glands. 

Drool Fuel

The virus replicates in the salivary glands, creating millions of baby viruses in the victim's saliva, ready to enter a new host through a bite wound.


In the brain, rabies hijacks emotional and cognitive centres increasing aggression, which makes the victim much more likely to bite, passing on the virus. Unfortunately, once the brain-jacking has started, there is nothing that can be done to save the victim: The virus continues to scramble the brain until the victim dies. This is a nasty virus.

Rabies Vaccination Protects Your Pet From ... The Government

"If your pet is ... unvaccinated for rabies, the government will act as if your pet has rabies"

What is really important to understand with rabies (vs. other pet-specific diseases that humans don’t get) is that we are typically vaccinating to ensure your pet doesn’t get forced into the heart-wrenching decision of government-mandated quarantine or euthanasia. Typically these situation arise when pets travel to other countries or when they bite a human (even a minor bite is treated very seriously by the government). 

Once the government is involved, there is no wiggle room and there is nothing that we, as vets, can do. If your pet is considered unvaccinated for rabies (which can literally be the day after the expiry date on your pet's vaccination certificate), the government can act as if your pet has rabies.

The Government Does Not Have a Sense of Humour

Medically, this is non-sensical: There is no doubt if your pet is vaccinated for rabies, it is very likely immune for considerably longer than the expiry date of the vaccination, but the government doesn’t care. 

If your pet is past due (again, even by one day) on your rabies vaccination, the government considers your pet completely unvaccinated. This is not based on immunology, but rather the government’s complete lack of humour around rabies. (This is understandable: Rabies is 100% fatal if not treated quickly and aggressively before it enters the brain.)

Rabies is Rare in Canada 😅

Rabies is in Canada; fortunately it’s rare, and our government does a good job of keeping it out (there is a lot of work at the border with wildlife - predominantly mass vaccination campaigns - as rabies is more prevalent in the US). However rabies is absolutely deadly, so regularly scheduled rabies vaccinations for your pet are a very good idea, even if it’s very unlikely Fluffy will get rabies.

Aside: It's not just for pets! Most vets have been vaccinated for rabies as well, including me. In vet school, we were required to be vaccinated, and we are encouraged to check our level of immunity at regular intervals.

Indoor Cats Are Not Exempt!

Bats are one of the primary carriers of rabies and they can easily get indoors, including into "safe" homes such as high-rise apartments. As well, should your indoor-only, never-seen-a-wild-animal, scared-of-its-own-shadow cat bite someone, the government won’t care one iota about your cat's cushy lifestyle. They will treat your cat like it might have rabies.

Don't Delay

Rabies vaccination schedules are weird and don’t parallel other vaccination schedules, so it’s important to make sure you are on schedule and don’t delay your appointment (it's easiest just to book your yearly annual exam and let us figure it out). I’ll go into detail about this and other vaccination schedules in another blog, so stay tuned.

The bottom line is that rabies vaccinations are different - truly a whole other animal.

With Care, Dr. Hans Christoffersen
Owner of Animal Care Clinics


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