A white dog looking curiously at the camera, sitting in front of a light blue background.

When we discuss important vaccinations for cats and dogs, there are typically questions about the less familiar diseases, such as distemper or Bordetella.

But almost every pet owner unanimously agrees with the mandate to protect pets from rabies. This is easily explained by the fact that prevalent suburban wildlife are known harbingers of this disease. Perhaps most significantly, vaccinating pets against rabies protects the entire family. Now that’s something the Pet Experts can really get on board with!

It’s the Law

Illinois law stipulates that every dog 4 months of age or more be inoculated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian. Furthermore, a second rabies vaccination should be administered within one year of the first. 

A certificate of immunization is issued to each dog, cat, and ferret alongside their microchip number, resident county, and name of veterinarian. 

No Exclusions

Rabies can affect any mammal, although the most common species known to carry and spread the deadly disease include:

  • Foxes
  • Raccoons
  • Bats
  • Coyotes
  • Skunks

Although dogs are commonly infected through contact with wildlife, cats are actually the most common domestic animal to be diagnosed (due, in part, to incomplete inoculation and accidental exposure to rabid wildlife). Vaccinating pets against rabies can protect ferrets, pigs, goats, sheep, horse, and even cattle. 

The Fine Print

Vaccinating pets against rabies is critical because the virus is almost always fatal. Attacking the nervous system of a bite victim, rabies is transmitted through saliva. It can even be transmitted if saliva simply comes into contact with the skin, eyes, nose, or mouth. 

Once inside the body, the virus travels along the nerves to the brain where it causes any of the following symptoms of neurological problems:

  • Aggression
  • Drooling
  • Loss of fear
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Staggering
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Any uncharacteristic behavior
  • Unusual patterns (such as nocturnal animals wandering around during the day)
  • Light sensitivity

Act Quickly

Once symptoms are present, there is no treatment, and only after death (via microscopic examination of the brain) can a diagnosis be confirmed. 

Vaccinating pets against rabies protects them from getting the disease, but with almost 60,000 people succumbing to the virus every year worldwide, inoculation is paramount. Dogs are a significant source of rabies outside the U.S., and precautions should be taken while traveling.

Vaccinating Pets Against Rabies

Aside from vaccinating pets against rabies, there are other strategies to prevent the spread of disease:

  • Prohibit your pet from roaming (spay and neuter pets to reduce the desire to roam?
  • Supervise your pet while they are outside
  • Keep your property free of food waste 
  • Keep compost piles fenced
  • Bat-proof your attic 
  • Never approach wildlife even if they appear friendly or tame (be sure that kids know this)
  • Report strange behavior of wild animals to animal control
  • Seek emergency help if you or your pet is ever bitten by an unfamiliar animal

Unvaccinated pets that get bitten by a wild animal should be vaccinated immediately and kept under observation. If it is known that they were bitten by an animal with rabies, quarantine and even euthanasia are likely outcomes. 

The Pet Experts at Naperville Animal Hospital are always here to assist you with any questions or concerns about vaccinating pets against rabies.