Rabies & Bats

September 11, 2019

Rabies is a dangerous zoonotic (spread from animals to humans) disease and human rabies is exceptionally rare in Canada. While rabies is relatively widespread in wildlife in North America, it is quite rare in domestic animals in Canada, and spillover into people is fortunately even rarer still because people have less direct contact with wildlife reservoirs, and because post-exposure prophylaxis is so effective if it is given in a timely manner.

Rabies infections are the tragic result of a breakdown in education and veterinarians have a responsibility to educate/communicate the risks and preventative measures.

Rabies virus is most commonly transmitted via the bite of an infected animal. Non-bite transmission and contamination of open wounds with saliva is considered rare. There are several species of bats found here on Vancouver Island. The little brown bat is the most common species. Bats are an extremely important and integral part of our ecosystem. About 0.5% of bats carry rabies in BC but on average 13% of bats sent for rabies testing are positive. This is because bats that come in contact with humans or domestic animals are more likely to carry rabies. Bat bites and scratches may also transmit rabies.

 After inoculation, the rabies virus enters peripheral nerves directly and then gains access to the central nervous system (brain). Once there, it spreads quite rapidly.  Once rabies virus has spread to the salivary glands, the brain has already been infected. Some patients die before the salivary glands become infected. The period of viral shedding before the onset of neurologic signs is typically 1-5 days.

There is no specific therapy and rabies is not a treatable disease. Patients typically die within 10 days of onset of clinical signs.

The cornerstone of rabies prevention in dogs and cats is vaccination. It is highly effective when administered properly.  It is recommended to administer the first rabies vaccination after 16 weeks of age and then a booster in one year, followed by every three years for both cats and dogs regardless of their lifestyle. We recommend using the Purevax rabies vaccines in cats. Many people opt not to vaccinate their indoor cats because risk of exposure is low, but bats who carry rabies can fly into your home and these bats are more likely to carry rabies.

If you happen to come across a deceased or ill looking bat, please do not touch it.
If you come across a deceased bat or believe your pet has come into contact with a bat, you can contact your local Canadian Food Inspection Agency Veterinarian 250-248-4772 for assistance.

If your pet requires vaccination or if you are unsure about their status, please call us at the clinic and we can check their history and verify whether their vaccinations are up to date.

Come, Sit, Stay, Heal @ RainTree Veterinary Hospital