with Dr. Amy Karls
What exactly is rabies and why should I be concerned about it as a cat owner/caretaker?
Rabies is a virus that affects the brain and nervous system of all mammals. The virus is carried in the saliva of an infected animal, and the main cause of transmission is bite wounds. Clinical signs typically develop 3–12 weeks after the bite occurs, but can appear anywhere from several days to several months later.
There is no way to tell if an animal has rabies by looking at it – the symptoms may vary from no signs at all to aggressive behavior and seizures. Rabies is almost always fatal, with no known cure. The only approved way to test for rabies is on brain tissue, which requires the animal to be euthanized in order to make a definitive diagnosis.
In Massachusetts, bats and raccoons are the most common carriers of rabies, though it has also been found in foxes, skunks, woodchucks, dogs, and cats. Nationwide, in 2014 cats comprised 61% of all positive rabies cases in domestic animals. Since 1992, more than 5,000 animals have tested positive for rabies in MA. None of the MA cats that tested positive for rabies had ever received a rabies vaccination.
How can I make sure my cat is protected?
The current rabies vaccinations available for cats and dogs are extremely effective in preventing the disease. MA law requires that all cats and dogs be vaccinated against rabies.
Kittens receive their first rabies vaccine at about 12 weeks of age. No matter the age of the cat, if it is her first vaccine, it will be good for one year. After this, additional boosters will be given, either at one year or three year intervals depending on the type of vaccine used. Only veterinarians can administer rabies vaccines in MA.
Minimizing your cat’s exposure to wildlife will also help decrease her risk of contracting rabies.
But my cat stays indoors – why does she need a rabies vaccine?
Besides being legally required, there have been many reported instances of bats or other wildlife getting into a house and exposing the pets and people to rabies. Since this virus is virtually 100% fatal, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
I heard there were some recent changes to the rabies laws in MA – what does this mean to me?
On July 30, 2016, MA officially updated their state rabies regulations. The changes most relevant to pet owners and community cat caretakers relate to vaccination boosters and quarantine procedures.
Under the old law, if your cat was overdue for her rabies vaccine, that overdue booster vaccine would only be good for one year, even if she had been previously vaccinated. Under the new law, if you can prove that your cat received a rabies vaccine at any time in her past, that booster vaccine will now be good for three years (if that is the type of vaccine used).
The change in quarantine law mainly affects cats that have bite wounds or injuries from an unknown source (wound of unknown origin) and are either overdue for their rabies vaccine or have an unknown vaccine status (such as feral cats brought to a spay/neuter clinic).
Under the old law, these cats had to be in strict confinement (often referred to as quarantine) for 6 months and could not receive a rabies vaccine until 28 days before quarantine was done. Under the new law, the rabies vaccine will be given immediately, and the quarantine is shortened to 4 months. The longest time on record in MA for an animal in quarantine to become rabid was 3 months and 2 weeks.
It is estimated that 750 – 1,000 dogs and cats will benefit from this shortened quarantine period. These changes will greatly reduce the stress on quarantined cats that are used to going outdoors or are feral.
Where can I get more information?
Archives for September 2016
with Dr. Amy Karls
We usually feature a story about a cat in this section, but this time we want to pay tribute to the people who so often are responsible for many of our happy endings…the foster families of MRFRS!
If you’ve been to our adoption center, you know that space is at a premium. We could never care for all of the cats who come our way if the shelter was the only location available to us. So, over time we’ve developed a compassionate and caring group of individuals who take in cats in all types of conditions: kittens that are too small for spay/neuter, cats or kittens that have URI or injuries, kittens who need socialization, adult cats who are sick or have injuries, “hospice” cats with terminal illnesses, or just cats who need a “soft place to land” for a while before coming back to the shelter or to their owner.
Foster Jane Tarr observes, “The shelter can only house so many cats and kittens before having to turn them away due to space constraints. Fostering enables the shelter to take in more cats than it can house, providing a second chance for many surrendered cats and kittens—many of which would have no place to go.”
What does MRFRS look for when identifying fosters for our kitties? Shelter Manager Brit Fox Hover outlined some of the requirements: “Foster homes need to have a separate space, like a bedroom or bathroom, for their fosters so that they are separated from their existing cats, dogs, or other pets. Ideally this space can be easily cleaned and disinfected between fosters.”
Just as importantly, Hover notes, “Fosters need to be patient with their cats and kittens, as the animals in their care have likely experienced a lot of change and need a soft, quiet, and loving place to land for a little while. Foster cats and kittens always need to be kept inside.”
There are a variety of other needs, such as transportation, good communication skills, and sometimes the ability to administer medicines or spend significant time socializing kittens. Right now, about 30 caring families are part of our fabulous foster network, and they all have stories about how rewarding they find it.
Betsy Davis states this eloquently: “The sheer number of cats (and dogs) euthanized in the U.S. every year is heartbreakingly staggering. Fostering gives me and my family the opportunity to validate and affirm the worth of each animal’s life, one life at a time. The gift of fostering to us is the chance to connect with the humane, generous, compassionate, and loving parts of ourselves. Plus, it’s unbelievably fun!”
Foster Jane Tarr agrees: “The most important reason we foster is that it makes us feel good!! We have fostered at least 35 cats and kittens since we started in May of 2015. It is so rewarding when a terrified feral kitten turns the corner and relaxes, trusts, and starts purring. It takes lots of TLC and time but it is well worth it as they make sweet and loving companions.”
Fostering is not without its challenges, however, especially when dealing with the most vulnerable. Experienced foster Emily Fleming recalls, “I have fostered many challenging cases over the years, but one that sticks out is [a] kitten litter from last winter. I started fostering them when they were only 12 hours old after their mother rejected them. I didn’t expect them to do as well as they did, but all four made it and got adopted! My family ended up adopting Charlotte, the runt, who was particularly challenging, but she is now nine months old and is doing so well!”
Recently, one of our foster families made a video to assist us with a grant we were applying for. We think you’ll enjoy seeing for yourself how much time and effort our fosters put into the cats and kittens they help.
Think you’d like to be part of our fabulous family of fosters? Email Brit at email@example.com to learn more.