Thursday, August 22, 2013

Vegas Bats Positive for Rabies- What's the Risk?


 
Think your pet doesn’t need a rabies vaccine because it lives indoors? Think again. Bats have been known to fly through open windows or chimneys. Dogs and cats that go outdoors are at risk for rabies exposure through wildlife. Felines that hunt and bring “presents” have added rabies risk.

In May 2013, two bats in Clark County, Nevada tested positive for rabies. One of those bats was actually dropped off at my hospital and later tested positive for rabies. Fortunately no pets or people were identified as exposed to that bat. I just learned of yet another new case of a rabies positive bat reported in the Las Vegas area.

The discovery of these rabies positive bats shouldn’t cause panic, but rather drive the importance of rabies awareness in the community. And with World Rabies Day arriving September 28, 2013, it’s high-time to answer common questions about rabies.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease causing encephalitis (brain inflammation) that affects all mammals including humans. The disease is almost always fatal. Over 55,000 people worldwide die of rabies every year, but fortunately U.S. human deaths are rare with 1 to 2 reported per year. Pet and farm animal rabies cases do occur in the U.S. though, usually after tangling with wildlife.

How is rabies passed?

Rabies is passed in saliva through the bite of a rabid animal. Less common exposures to rabies include aerosol transmission, mucous membrane contact, or rare cases of organ transplant in humans.

What are symptoms of rabies?

Excessive drooling, aggression, staggering, and seizures are symptoms of rabies in animals. Wild carnivores, like coyotes, that avoid people are suspect if lacking fear and approaching humans. Nocturnal species like bats that are found out during daylight are also suspect for rabies.

What kind of animals carries rabies?

Although pet and human rabies cases in the U.S. are rare, the infection still abounds in wildlife reservoirs. In the Las Vegas area, bats are most commonly carriers, but other wildlife carriers include raccoons, skunks and foxes.

What do you do if you see a sick or dying bat?

Avoid contact with sick or dying bats. Do not take sick bats to the veterinarian. Call Animal Control if any human or pet exposure to sick bat.

Despite the rabies concern, bats do have an important role in our ecosystem by consuming insects and pollinating plants. Not every bat has rabies, and there are other reasons bats die.

What do I do if a person or pet is scratched or bitten by a bat or other wildlife?

If your pet gets into a fight with a skunk or raccoon, or plays with a dying or dead bat, there is potential for rabies exposure and a report should be made. Call animal control to have the bat or other wildlife picked up.

Possible rabies exposure is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Because rabies is fatal, any humans with suspect rabies exposure should make a report to the local health department. Fortunately post exposure treatment for people is very effective in preventing disease, and doesn’t involve painful stomach injections reported of long ago.

What happens to pets after exposure to suspected or known rabies?

Ultimately local rabies ordinances dictate how each case is handled. Pets with current or late rabies vaccinations may be quarantined for 10 days.
A pet that never has had a rabies vaccine may be promptly euthanized and tested for rabies. In other cases of unvaccinated pets, extended quarantine periods up to 6 months may arise.

What can I do to protect my pets and family from rabies?

  • Vaccinate animals for rabies - this includes dogs, cats, ferrets and select farm animals.

  • Teach children never to handle bats.

  • Do not keep wild animals as pets.

  • Spay and neuter your pets to decrease the desire to roam.

  • Maintain control of your pets when outdoors or hiking to avoid accidental exposure to wildlife.

  • Bat-proof your home and garage to avoid nesting sites and close encounters with bats.

  • Report human bites from pets or wildlife to public health and animal control authorities.

 
Vaccination is key to protecting pets from rabies and offers peace of mind to pet owners. Rabies vaccine is typically inexpensive in the Las Vegas area- for example a rabies vaccine at my hospital for dogs and cats costs just $10.00.  

Rabies vaccination…Just do it!
 
For more information, visit these websites:
Global Alliance for Rabies Control   http://rabiesalliance.org/
Southern Nevada Health District     http://www.southernnevadahealthdistrict.org/
 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Multiple Cats, Stress & Illness


Caring for one cat is easy. Adding a second or third doesn’t take much more work. But how many cats are too many? As the number of cats in a home increase, there is greater risk of behavior and health disorders- partly due to higher stress. Problem behaviors like hissing, chasing and soiling outside the litter box are more common in multi-cat homes. But environmental stress contributes to medical disorders too. That’s right- stress will make your cat sick.

Defining Feline Stress

Crowding within a home zone creates psychological stress for cats. Cats are social creatures, but don’t form social structures like dogs or people. They require room to be away from fellow cats and retreat to their own space. But just having more square footage isn’t enough. Cats require a multi-dimensional environment with vertical perching sites and hiding spots.

Household activity, changes in the home and the presence of outdoor cats nearby can rile up your cat’s stress level. It’s easy for cat owners fail to detect clues of cat stress in the multi-cat household. A majority of cat communication is nonverbal, so even if you don’t hear growling or hissing your cats can be stressed out.

Even mealtime can be stressful. A study of feral cats has shown that cats hunt and eat their prey preferably away from other cats. Feral cats eat up to 10 to 20 throughout the daytime and night. So kibble offered to pet cats in a large communal bowl once to two times a day is contrary to innate kitty dining behaviors.

Cat Stress=Sickness

Just as in people, the mind-body connection is at work in cats too. Higher stress results in higher levels of compounds that result in bodily inflammation and suppress immune responses.

Feline interstitial cystitis, also referred to as feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), is an inflammatory problem of the bladder typified by frequent urinations, straining to urinate, and bloody colored urine. The cause of FIC isn’t completely known, but stress is believed to contribute to its development. Cat owners are shocked to learn that those bloody urine accidents may have nothing to do with bacteria, and everything to do with stress.

Other stress related health problems include excess grooming behaviors, obsessive compulsive behaviors and obesity. Cats in high-density living situations may be prone to upper respiratory outbreaks even if residing solely indoors. Stress and an indoor lifestyle have also been implicated in contributing to obesity, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and dental disease.

What to Do

It’s not that you can’t have multiple cats, but you need ensure you can provide the environment for more cats. Consider the feline perspective with living space, feeding, and interaction with other animals and people.

Add cats to the home that share similar personalities. A rowdy cat gets along best with other rowdy cats.  A timid cat may be stressed out and fail to thrive in a home where fellow cats are outgoing or rambunctious cats.

Work toward household harmony by following the basic guidelines in resources. Provide ample resources to avoid competition, and therefore stress. Provide one more resource than the number of cats in the home. For two cats you should have three litter boxes and three feeding/watering sites.

Vertical height equals safety to cats, so provide ample perching sites for cats, such as cat trees and window perches. Stick to the rule for one more perching site than kitty in the home. Provide hiding spot like paper bags or cardboard boxes.

Promptly address feline behavior problems when they arise by consulting with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist.

For more information on enriching your indoor cat’s environment, visit the Indoor Pet Initiative’s website: http://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/ This resource is provided by the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.