Why Vaccinate Against Rabies?

Author: Emily Burt, Nursing Team

April 29, 2011

Rabies, once contracted, is nearly always fatal. It is a viral disease affecting the central nervous system and found in the saliva of the carrier. It is most frequently transmitted via a bite or a scratch.

So why do we recommend vaccinating your animal against rabies? Perhaps your kitty is indoors only and you think they will never be exposed. In the Northwest United States, the primary reservoir of rabies is bats. Bats are found in nearly every county (including King and Snohomish) in Washington state. You may never see them, but they are certainly around.

Even if your cat is indoors only, there is a risk of exposure. Bats that are healthy usually avoid all contact with people. However, a bat that has been infected with rabies often may lose the ability to fly well. They may be found on the ground around a home, or they may enter a home via an open window, an open door, or a chimney. According to King County Public Health, "If someone wakes up to find a bat in the room, or a bat is found in the room of an unattended small child, an intoxicated or mentally incapacitated person, or pet, the possibility exists that a bat bite, scratch—or direct contact—may have occurred."

Bat bites are often difficult to detect because bats' teeth are so sharp. If you suspect that you, another person, or a pet has had a bat exposure, it is important to attempt to capture the bat for possible rabies testing. Check King County Public Health or your local public health department for more information on how to safely contain a bat and how to send it for testing.

Of course, the best protection is to have your animals regularly vaccinated against rabies.