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Dog Days of Summer

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September 1, 2011 by wcobserver


Ever wonder why they call this time of year “dog days”?  I suppose you’ll get several different responses to this question. Somehow it seems to be related to rabid dogs.

While it’s true that more rabid skunks and raccoons are seen this time of year, I’m not so sure about dogs. The main reason we see more rabies this time of year is usually due to the hot dry weather. Wild animals come out of the woods seeking food and water and therefore come in contact with humans more often, rabid or not.

According to a recent Associated Press story in The Washington Post, rabies prevention in the good ole USA has almost wiped out rabies in dogs and cats. The success is attributed to widespread vaccination of these species. Human deaths are almost unknown in the good ole USA also due to pet vaccinations and aggressive treatment for people bitten by potentially rabid animals.

But rabies remains a major problem arounwd the world with more than 55,000 human deaths annually, half of which are children under the age of 15. Asia and Africa account for 95% of cases, most of which are spread by domestic dogs. This statistic comes from the WHO. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control, before 1060, most cases of rabies in the U.S., were in domestic animals. But now days greater than 90% of rabies cases are found in raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes. About 7,000 animals (that we know of) die of rabies each year in the US. Around the world only Australia, Antarctica and Hawaii are rabies free.

Birds, fish, insects, reptiles and any non mammalian species do not get or carry rabies.  Some mammals such as chipmunks, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice, rats, rabbits and squirrels are rarely found positive for rabies.

About 40,000 Americans each year have to take the two-week series of four shots after being bitten by animals. The shots are given as a preventive, whether or not the animal is caught or tested. Rabies is always fatal in animals that do not have antibodies from vaccinations. Pets usually contract the disease from raccoons or other wildlife species and the owner may not even know it happened.

In countries close to us such as Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Porto Rico the main source of rabies is the mongoose. The 22nd annual International Conference on Rabies is being held in San Juan, Porto Rico this year, a few weeks after World Rabies ​Day, September 28.

To cut down on rabies in the wild, the USDA’s Wildlife Services Program distributes rabies vaccinated treats to wildlife by air and ground. Seems to me like Dog Days would be an excellent time to double down on this venture.

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