Rabies – why you need to vaccinate

The lockdown is not an excuse to skip your pets’ vaccinations –  now more than ever. Let’s have a look at rabies – one of those awful diseases that are almost always fatal. It is caused by a virus and affects all mammals. The World Health Organisation estimates that the disease claims around 60,000 human lives annually, with close to 95% of these deaths occurring in Africa and Asia. Rabies is found on every continent in the world, excluding Antarctica, and in 150 countries and territories. In South Africa rabies occurs in all nine provinces.

Fact 1: Rabies is transmitted via bites or scratches

The virus is transmitted when the saliva of the infected animal comes into contact with broken skin through bites and scratches. For your own safety, never pick up the carcass of a dead animal, but rather call a conservation body or the nearest state vet for safe disposal. If you find an animal who appears ill, disorientated and/or aggressive, do not approach him. Call the state vet, an animal health technician, the Health Department or the local SPCA to investigate.

Fact 2: Rabies vaccinations are a legal requirement

Rabies can be prevented through vaccination. Pet owners are required by law to have their pets vaccinated by a duly authorised person and this must be recorded on a vaccination card or certificate. The rabies vaccination is relativity inexpensive.

Puppies and kittens should be vaccinated at 12 weeks and again within the first year, usually at 16 weeks as this is easier to remember. After this, repeat vaccinations were required every three years, but most vets now advocate a yearly rabies vaccination. This depends on the area or province you reside in and how often positive rabies cases are reported in your area. Check with your vet what he or she advises for your pets. The booster shots are often neglected but they are important and should be given. Without the boosters the animal will be deemed unvaccinated. If you adopt a pet from an animal shelter, have the animal vaccinated against rabies.

Government programmes are also in place where free rabies vaccinations are provided. It is important to note for the vaccination to be valid, only vets, vet nurses or animal health technicians can give it. If you vaccinate your animals yourself, or if they are vaccinated by an unauthorised person, they will be seen as unvaccinated when a rabies outbreak occurs. If they are exposed to a positive animal, they will have to be euthanised.

Keep people and pets safe

  • Vaccinate the entire family against rabies.
  • Teach children not to approach stray dogs or cats, even if they look friendly.
  • Keep away from wild animals. Never approach them, especially if the animal looks tame.
  • Spay and neuter domestic pets so your animals don’t roam the streets in search of a mate.
  • If you work with animals – on a farm, in a game park or in a veterinary practice – have preventative pre-exposure rabies vaccinations at your local clinic or travel clinic.

Sources: Dr Anne de Vos (veterinarian) and Dr Didi Janse van Rensburg (Chief State Vet: Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development)