Updated: Apr 2
Rabies is a very serious virus that is deadly to companion animals and people. This article is for educational purposes only. We advocate for informed consent and the right to make the best decision for your companions without fear, persecution, being threatened or coerced into vaccinating. We advocate for the concept of vaccination philosophies but currently do not agree with how they are made, the ingredients in them or how they are administered. Read and vaccinate at your own risk.
Vaccinating is hot a topic among many pet owners especially those that either have experienced a reaction in the past including death or those that prefer a more natural life style for their companions. This article is a summary exploration of all things rabies. HISTORY: The rabies virus’ family name Rhabdovirus originates (1) from Sanskrit. It comes from the word “rabhas” which means “to do violence”. (2)
Rabies isn’t anything new. Cuneiform tablets dating back all the way to 4000 years ago speak of this dangerous virus (3, 4). Throughout many periods of history punishment was severe for allowing a dog with rabies to spread the disease to humans via a bite.
From 2008 to 2017 23 people contracted rabies in the United States, but 11 of those were traced back to bats. In addition, eight were contracted outside the US and none were domestic companion dogs or cats (5). PREVELANCE
Domestic dogs make up 1% of REPORTED rabid animals (6,7) however, there are no averages for the spread of rabies via companion animal bites in the US because it is so rare. Most occur in third world countries and most studies don’t distinguish between stray and domestic pet dogs, however with most bites occurring in third world countries most ARE stray dogs. Does rabies exist in the United States? Originally mass vaccination was common in the 1940’s in a time when human rabies was extremely prevalent. The result of this dedicated period of time inoculating has created an environment where rabies has virtually been eradicated in the companion animal population including the CDC stating its eradication in 2007 of canine rabies (8, 9, 10).
What about cats? While we have looked everywhere including scientific databases and government websites we have really only found statistics and information on rabies in canines and wild animals. No cat-to-cat rabies transmission has been recorded, and no feline strain of rabies virus is known (11).
In 2018 6.2% reported cases were in cats.
In 2017 21,187 cats were tested for rabies. Of those tested cats 276 or 3.1% tested positive (6). While this was a 7.4% increase from the previous year the 1.3% (276 cats) of the cats submitted for rabies were rabid, no reports were made that they bite humans and there was no distinguishing between pet and stray cats. Furthermore according to The Humane Society there are 94.2 million PET cats (13).Taking this number into account that would mean 0.00000292993% of the total pet cat population had rabies. There are 30-40 million cats estimated to be stray, abandoned and feral cats (13). If we apply these 276 cats to solely this population of cats 0.0000092%-0.0000069% were rabid. Combine the pet and stray population we have about 124.2-134.2 million cats giving us 0.00000222222%-0.00000205663% rabid cats. Rabies in cats is extremely rare. According to the CDC, domestic animals, including pets, accounted for only 7.6% of reported rabies cases in the U.S. in 2015, the last year for which statistics were available. There has not been a single confirmed case of cat-to-human rabies in the U.S. in the past 40 years. In fact, only two human rabies cases have been attributed to cats since 1960.
Small animals that cats often hunt like squirrels, chipmunks, and mice almost never contract rabies. (14). Primarily wild animals are the ultimate concern. (15, 16, 17)
In 2017 1,433 (32.2%) bats, 1,275 (28.6%) raccoons, 939 (21.1%) skunks, 314 (7.0%) foxes, 276 (6.2%) cats, 62 (1.4%) dogs, and 36 (0.8%) cattle make up the reported and tested animals with rabies (6).
According to the CDC’s website human rabies is quite rare with only about 1-3 cases a year and 23 cases occurring between 2008-2017. Eight of those were acquired outside the united states. This means that 1-2 in 324,000,000 chances of death in humans. Keep in mind most of these statistics aren’t referring to rabies bites from DOMESTIC cats and dogs IN the United States. Most are wild or stray animals majorly in third world countries.
In 2010, there were 6,154 cases of rabies in animals, and 2 human cases were reported in the US and Puerto Rico (one rabid dog [bitten in another country], one bat and one mongoose [in Puerto Rico]. None sought medical help immediately after the incident and failed to see a doctor even a week later.
While wildlife has accounted for 90% of rabies cases in the US, of the animal cases reported, only 5% were feline (5) The biggest concern for rabies occurs primarily in third world and less developed countries. In India and Africa (18), the death toll is still numbered at around 60,000 human deaths each year (19, 20). Most of these are young children(21). Africa and Asia are primarily a big problem because there are no laws or regulations for rabies nor is there control of stray animals like dogs (22).
The World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control refer to this as neglected tropical disease (23). There are known ways to control rabies via knowledge treating bites, reporting and tracking as seen in first world countries, but this is a serious problem in third world countries (24, 25).
Fear not efforts are being made. The Caribbean and Latin America is a great example. They are helping to reduce the prevalence by vaccinating, surveillance and education in addition to proper pre and post prophylaxis of rabies. In fact, many Latin American countries are now human rabies free. Other areas that are still affected are seeing drastic drops in numbers. In 2010 canine rabies went from 25,000 cases in 1980 to only 300 and the incidence of dog to human cases went from 300 to 10 in the same time span (26).
Please note THIS IS THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES NOT FIRST WORLD. Third world countries and vaccine protocols are one story, countries like the USA is another (6, 27, 29).
Rabies is fairly easy to spread. According to the Global Alliance for Rabies Control “Blood, feces, and urine cannot transmit the virus. Most infections will occur directly by animal bites”. It is passed via the saliva and is very serious because the disease infiltrates the nervous system (22).
Georg Gottfried Zinke a German researcher was able in 1804 to spread the disease to animal tissues just with rabid saliva without a single bite being involved. Again, this was repeated with a human victim (30, 31).
Another experiment took tissue from a rabid cat and put it in contact with the wound of a dog resulting in the dog becoming rabid.
Once in the nerves it finds its way to the brain. Often this is fairly quick, but it could take weeks or months (32). depending on how close the bite was to the head (33). After the virus has spread to the current victim’s brain it’s time to find another host. The virus moves back down to the salivary glands producing an abundance of saliva to pass the disease onto another victim. This is why many rabid animals’ foam at the mouth (22, 34, 35)
Not any old animal carries rabies, it is primarily spread by carnivores (36).
While cows, sheep and horses can get rabies, it’s pretty much a dead end for rabies as it doesn’t spread from sheep to sheep for example and thus dies. In America the most common carriers of rabies often include skunk, raccoon, bats, coyotes and fox.
raccoons (28.6% [1,275]), skunks (21.1% ), and foxes (7.0% ).
“Figure 1— Distribution of major RVVs among mesocarnivores in the United States and Puerto Rico. Black diagonal lines represent distribution of fox RVVs (Arizona gray fox and Texas gray fox RVVs). Solid borders represent RVV distributions from 2013 through 2017; dashed borders represent the previous 5-year distributions from 2012 through 2016” (6).
WHAT DOES A RABID ANIMAL LOOK LIKE? Most people may not have personally seen what a rabid animal is like, but we’ve all heard of what they look like. Many of these critters are out during the day, being nocturnal this is abnormal behavior. Many are “friendly” and while normally scared of humans, will come right up to you. They will be walking like a drunk person, awkwardly moving and swaying. Finally, they will attack often in the foam of a foamy bite.
There are wide range of symptoms found in the rabid. These can include: Behavior changes Deviation from pack behavior (free roaming) Anorexia Paranoia Irritability Abnormally hyper excitability Ataxia Changes in temperament Making strange noises Paralysis (typically what kills the victim) Eating things they shouldn’t primarily undigestible items Restlessness Rage/Fury Fear of water (due to paralysis intense spasms can occur) (11, 37, 38, 39)
Post-exposure prophylaxis was developed quite a long time ago. It all started with a 9-year-old boy who suffered 14 bites across his hand and legs in 1885 from a dog who was quickly shot by the police. Louis Pasteur, a well-known French scientist, injected the boy 13 times over 10 days with an inoculation made from a rabbit infected with rabies. As the days went by the strength of the injections increased. With the last inoculation being made from a rabbit that had died within just 7 days of being injected with rabid substances from another rabbit infected by the disease. The theory was the virus was less potent as rabbit after rabbit was injected with the prior rabid rabbit making the exposure less deadly to the human victim. This is known as serial passage. As it’s passed from species to species the virus is less used to that particular animal reducing virulence and thus less dangerous to people. It however is strong enough to develop immunity to the virus you find in nature.
The boy ended up surviving making this method the start of Post-exposure prophylaxis procedures and identifying a very unique time frame for the treatment of the virus (40, 41).
Post Exposure Prophylaxis is essentially 100% effective in preventing rabies from fully developing in humans. The few that it didn’t work on suffered deadly allergic reactions and thus could not be cured (42, 43).
Ultimately wound care is one of the best things one can immediately do for a rabies bite. It may seem silly but thoroughly washing the wound is paramount. This obviously is essential when educating citizens of third world countries when it comes to rabies. (42, 44, 45, 46, 47)
WHAT HAPPENS IF I OR MY COMPANION ARE BIT OR SUSPECTED OF RABIES?
Because Rabies is a serious issue if confronted with it, calling your local health department is the responsible thing to do.
If your companion is suspected of rabies or being bitten by a rabid animal, they will be required to be quarantined for 10 days (48, 49). Should symptoms such as erratic behavior or paralysis occur the animal will be put to sleep and the brain will be examined to determine if the animal was rabid (50, 51, 52).
If a human is bitten post-exposure prophylaxis is administered in the form of several antibody doses to avoid the spread of rabies to humans (53).
Now are you liable if your companion bites someone and they are NOT up to date on their rabies vaccine? In short yes you are liable purely because your animal caused harm to someone/something else. It would also be hard to believe that you are less liable if your cat IS up to date on their rabies vaccine. Why? Because regardless someone may need medical care for their injuries. Are you liable if they are not current? Technically yes but only if someone asks or is walking around town requiring to see vaccine records. How practical is that? Not very as you would already be surveyed. Should you be approached really the worst-case scenario is your companion will be quarantined for 10 days and observed to see if they have rabies.
RABIES AND THE LAW
Ok so you are fine not vaccinating anything that isn’t “legally” required but what about the big R, the Rabies Vaccine?
Unfortunately, even if some states are now providing medical exemptions and some countries are not requiring vaccination, individual cities and counties create their own rules when it comes to vaccination which include requiring yearly vaccines. (54)
Rabies laws vary from state to state because each state’s Department of Health makes these laws. This is a human government body, not animal (55, 56). While potentially, judicially sound, ironically these laws have no backing in immunology or science.
VACCINES AND IMMUNOLOGY Immunologists study the immune system; they have identified what is called duration of immunity (DOI) and that this duration is long for virus-based vaccines (57, 58, 59, 60).
They also have identified that vaccinating more does not equate to more protection and a new immune response being elicited. Why listen to immunologists over a veterinarian specifically? Because immunologists aren’t selling vaccines, they are providing information about the immune system and how it operates. Veterinarians are great for many things but if they aren’t looking for or acknowledge the problems vaccines cause and money is a driving force for this blindness than that’s a concern and conflict of interest. It has been a well-known fact that annual vaccination is no longer recommended, yet 60% of veterinarians are still recommending it (61, 62)
Vaccinations make up 50%-70% of sales at veterinary clinics (63). Most vaccines generally cost about $0.60-$0.90 to make however veterinary clinics charge about $15-$30 per vaccine. (63, 64, 65, 66, 67). Lower the frequency of vaccinations, lower your profit.
Unbeknownst to many the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) released an official statement in 2000. This statement advised against annual vaccination. This was based on a study performed by Cornell University in which after vaccination, 7 years later immunity still existed (68).
ANNUAL VACCINATION Technically there is no difference in the “immunity” 1 year and 3-year rabies vaccines provide. The labels simply represent the time span animals were studied but the same vaccine was evaluated (69, 70, 71).
So far other challenges have been suggested implying immunity for 7 or more years. A fund entitled The Rabies Challenge Fund are the top researchers in determining the duration of immunity vaccines provide and having legislation comply with this science. They are currently in their fourth year of determining duration of immunity 7 years after inoculation (72). “The following was printed in a well-respected, peer-reviewed textbook that is updated every four years). The authors include veterinary immunologists Ronald Schultz (University of Wisconsin) and Tom Phillips (Scrips Research Institute).
They are addressing vaccination efficacy directly in this excerpt:
A practice that was started many years ago and that lacks scientific validity or verification is annual revaccination. Almost without exception there is no immunologic requirement for annual revaccination. Immunity to viruses persists for years or for the life of the animal…… Furthermore, revaccination with most viral vaccines fails to stimulate an anamnestic (secondary) response…. The practice of annual vaccination in our opinion should be considered of questionable efficacy…” (73)
Fear is a big influencer when it comes to government and professional education as well in making decisions. Statements like “you’re going to kill your pet” “you are going to kill other people’s pets” “did you hear about Susie’s cat….?”or “that’s illegal” are meant to scare you into making a decision without informed consent or true education on both sides of the topic (74, 75, 76, 77, 78).
PROBLEMS WITH THE RABIES VACCINE
The rabies vaccine contains the killed rabies virus therefore the virus does not replicate in your cat like a modified live vaccine does (79, 80).
Killed vaccines are vaccines that have the main pathogen inactivated by heating or chemical application. While considered “safer” than modified live vaccines (81), they require larger amounts of the pathogen, administration of multiple doses and require adjuvants to activate an immune response which is often weaker and shorter in duration (82, 83).
However, on the other hand modified live vaccinations contain viruses that are still active more closely resembling the real pathogen that would be encountered in nature. While they produce stronger and longer immune responses, they are less safe resulting in shedding, immunosuppression and even cause vaccine induced disease (81, 84, 85, 85, 87). WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF A RABIES VACCINE REACTION? Above we presented the symptoms of the rabies virus in a rabies victim. When we start hearing of complaints after a rabies vaccine, we see many similar problems we see in rabies victims some we may not think were even related:
Does your companion eat things they shouldn’t be? (feces, stones, wood etc.)
Is there a fear of water (biting water from the sink, agitation around water sources, etc.)
Fear of storms especially lightening
Aggressive and ready to fight or bite
Fear of strangers
Erratic breathing or reverse sneezing
Destroying toys, blankets and bedding
Seizures, incoordination, tics
Restlessness or desire to roam aimlessly
Erratic behavior when confined
Self harm like excessive scratching and biting
No interest in food
Inflammation of the heart, abnormal heart function, heart failure etc.
Change in muscle movement
Will Falconer, a fore leader on natural rearing and vaccine practices has documented the following in response to damage caused by the rabies vaccine:
Immune mediated hemolytic anemia (50% fatality rate)
Cancer at the injection site (used to be called "Vaccine-associated sarcoma")
Tumors elsewhere, or benign tumors changing to malignant ones
Laryngeal paralysis that often progresses to rear end paralysis
Chronic inflammatory bowel disease
Chronic allergic skin (and/or ear) disease
Aggression, suspicion, fearfulness
Reactions don’t always happen immediately; they can happen later down the road. Why is this a) think on a human scale (which can be applied to animals) you eat McDonald’s for years. You don’t have a heart attack the first time you eat there (although that’s not out of the question) you have it down the road (90, 91) b) vaccines contain so many factors that stress our bodies down to the epigenetic level. It turns on and off genes (92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97) and c) you have to be open to making the connection. Most owners don’t take notes they only have general ideas of when events and situations happen failing often to make correlations.
RABIES VACCINE AND OTHER DISEASE CORRELATIONS Since the early 90’s it has been well know that vaccines are correlated with malignant tumors in cats (98,99).
This is often why rabies vaccines are administered in a leg or the tail (100, 101, 102).
You can “easily” amputate this part without killing the animal. Without these areas being the location for injection, even surgery doesn’t prevail (103, 104).
Many feline vaccines including the rabies vaccine are grown on feline kidney cell lines. When harvesting the virus kidney proteins also become incorporated into the vaccine. So, when a cat is vaccinated with the rabies vaccine not only is the body producing an “immune response” to rabies it also creates antibodies to feline kidney cells (105, 106, 107, 108, 109). Thus, the rabies vaccine has been correlated to high prevalence of kidney failure in cats. Essentially the body is attacking itself and its own immune system.
CAN’T YOU JUST DETOX?
While detox may help with a few surface levels things, ultimately the damage is done as evident by epigenetic changes that can occur and there is no good way to come back from that. The body is equipped naturally with organs and systems that are designed to detox. Anything outside the normal body functions will increase the body’s ability to detox other than keeping the body in tip top shape and NOT administering vaccinations in the first place that otherwise depress the immune system and the body’s normal functions.
So, What is the Right Thing to Do?
Here lies the challenge. Most immediately conform to the law. It’s illegal to not rabies vaccinate, right? so do the legal thing and vaccinate, but it’s not so black and white. There are many more factors to take into account. Weighing the risks and benefits are essential. The rabies laws are blanket, one size fits all laws. They do not account for individual circumstances. It’s not flexible and it isn’t adaptable. Say Jody and John live in North Carolina. Jody lives on the 5th floor of a condo in the city with her cat. John lives in a cabin in the mountains surrounded by the woods with his indoor-outdoor cat. These individuals are subject to the same laws yet, one of these cat owners is at significantly more risk for contracting rabies than the other. According to this law though it doesn’t matter. So in order to be a good person you are supposed to vaccinate your animal no matter the risk and in doing so you are supposed to be ok with harming your companion animal and paying for it financially and emotionally while no one else is held responsible for the resulting issues. That just doesn’t seem right. The first thing to do is to access your companion’s risk of contracting rabies.
RISK ASSESSMENT CHECK! Is my animal already vaccinated? If not is there a reason? Is this reason acknowledged by a veterinarian? Have I fulfilled the intent of the law in which I am protecting others from my pet spreading rabies?
Do you show your animal?
If immunology shows lifelong immunity to viruses, is it right to continue following the law? Does an authority routinely come to my home or those of my neighbors surveying vaccine status? If I choose not to vaccinate, is my companion at risk of biting a human and more specifically with the rabies virus? Where do you live? City, country, mountains, beach? Condo, Cabin, Development, Island? What is the prevalence of rabies? What local animals are known to carry rabies?
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Evaluate your risk of exposure
If your state does not have a medical exemption, talk to your veterinarian anyways, consider finding a truly holistic vet or contact Dr. John Robb leader of the Protect the Pet Movement.
Titer test to check antibody levels
Educate yourself on the facts so that you can also educate other pet owners and animal related professionals.
WAIVERS All vaccine inserts state “only for use in healthy dogs, cats ferrets, etc.” These labels are straight from the vaccine manufacturer. This is your ultimate personal waiver. What does this mean? What qualifies your companion for an exemption?
Hyperthyroid animals and/or on a thyroid drug.
Allergies of any kind and/or on allergy medications (prednisolone, Atopica, apoquel) and/or on allergy diets (kibble or canned diets)
Have any kind of illness or disease (kidney disease, bladder crystals, liver disease, intestinal problems, dental disease, or other) and/or on a commercial diet (kibble or canned) for these diseases.
Involving any kind of ear medication for infections, itchiness, swelling, discharge, mites etc.
Have epilepsy and/or on anti-seizure medications
Issues with the eyes such as dry, weepy, running, herpes virus, upper respiratory issues etc. and/or requiring medicinal drops
On any kind of medication for the heart, pain, diabetes, fleas, ticks, parasites, worms including antibiotics, steroids etc.
The list goes on and on. Any illness or disease no matter how minor means your animal is not healthy. But what if your animal is healthy? Well than you don’t need to go to the vet, do you?
If you do find yourself at the vet informed consent is essential. Informed consent is not only giving a veterinarian permission to vaccinate your animals, but to know ALL the risks in addition to the benefits. Vaccines are like any other pharmaceutical product. They do have risks and for some companion animals these may be greater than others. This is your right as a pet owner to protect your companion.
18 states currently have medical exemptions for vaccines. These exemptions are written letters explaining the reason why the animal should not be vaccinated. Several medical reasons are stated above. These 18 states include:
Alabama California Colorado Connecticut Florida Illinois Maine Massachusetts Maryland New Hampshire New Jersey Nevada New York Oregon Pennsylvania Vermont Virginia Wisconsin
TITER AND OTHER TESTS OF IMMUNITY
Titer testing is becoming more common. It is a blood test that detects the present of antibodies in circulation. Any number above 0 represents a positive titer, but keep in mind that even 0 doesn’t really mean zero. It’s like a scale that only weighs things in grams to the 1 decimal place but if there is more weight to the item, the scale doesn’t have the capacity to detect that small.
(111) There is also another test of immunity called Cell Mediated Immunity or CMI. This test is more reliable than a titer. It is sensitive enough to catch antibody levels when a titer results in zero. In one study performed on dogs, three years after inoculation showed no titer but on the CMI test a protective immunity was detected.
INFLUENCERS MAKING A DIFFERENCE
The Rabies Challenge Fund The main goal of this fund that was founded in 2006 is to “decrease risk of adverse reactions to rabies vaccination for pets across a large portion of the United States.”
They work closely with legislation to make changes that are backed by scientific evidence meeting the Code of Federal Regulations (9 CFR 113.209) standard for rabies vaccine licensing as well as standards the manufacturers of these vaccines are required to follow.
They further advocate for the acceptance of medical exemptions for ALL states, allowing veterinarians to write valid and legally sound exemptions.
The Rabies Challenge fund also attempts to protect animals legally through legislation against over vaccination. To date all 50 states, recognize animals can be vaccinated every 3 years versus every year.
They are also responsible for helping to add medical exemption clauses to rabies legislation in Alabama, California, Maine, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
In addition, they worked hard to oppose various bills proposing to lower the age of rabies vaccination for puppies.
Finally, the fund helped pass legislation in Delaware to restrict veterinarians from providing 1-year rabies certificates for 3-year rabies vaccines (114).
Dr. John Robb and Protect the Pets
Dr. John Robb is a veterinarian who lives in Connecticut. In 2008 he bought a Banfield Hospital franchise which are now owned by Mars, the candy company. Here he learned that profit came before the wellbeing of animal patients. They tried to buy him out and blackmail him, threatening to report him to the board if he didn’t “leave quietly”. Here is how Protect the Pets developed. He has presented endless research to the courts to show that dosing and frequency of vaccinations is inappropriate for most animals and how it not only harms but kills companion animals. His aim is to educate pet owners, government agencies, veterinary professionals and provide affordable means to titer testing companion animals.
(115, 116, 117)
Just like fast food, vaccines are fast, convenient and cheap, while endangering our companions’ health and wellbeing, but just like fast food education is key and informed consent is paramount before allowing vaccines into your companion’s body. Rabies is a very serious virus that affects both humans and animals arguably we can say the benefits outweigh the cost when saving human lives especially in third world countries. Various rabies control programs such as those in Latin America have had great success and the United States has been no different resulting in a drastic decrease of human deaths to only 1-3 a year and the eradication of canine rabies as of 2007.
The facts stand that about 40,000 of the 60,000 people receive treatment for Rabies after being exposed. Of those, 90% have contracted it from a wild animal with exposure to companion animals being increasingly rare. According to the US Census Bureau there is about 325 million people in the united states. Exposure to rabies through companion animals is 0.000012%. While there 4x more cats than dogs the exposure risk is still only 0.0000024%. On top of that remember even according to the CDC only 1-3 people a year contract rabies in the United States.
As you can see from the history of rabies, rabies has been around for many thousands of years, potentially before even humans existed. The only true way to eradicate rabies would be to remove humans and those that contract rabies. The virus is self-limiting. No host and no way to spread it results in a dead end for this virus. At the end of the day if rabies were as dangerous as it is claimed to be then by logic all animals would be extinct or at least those that are primary carriers.
Rabies vaccines and laws have great intentions. There is no doubt that the vaccine can and, in the past, has helped control the spread of rabies not only in the companion animal population as well as the human population. But there are serious considerations that need to be made in regard to your companion spreading rabies.
Risk assessment should be considered when determining if your companion should have a rabies vaccine. Situations vary among individual companions which include location of living, health concerns, prevalence of the virus and personal beliefs.
At the end of the day the prevalence of rabies in companion animals is so miniscule. Most rabies laws are set in place for humans not for animals and given that post exposure prophylaxis is 100% effective the concern especially in the United States for rabies is very minimal
It’s up to you and what you feel is best for your family at the end of the day, but education is key to making the best decision.
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