Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
 

Pets and Infectious Diseases

Pets and Infectious Diseases

Pets and infectious diseases

Proper care of your pet may prevent him or her from becoming ill and infecting the household. Further, to prevent the spread of disease from your pet, take the following precautions:

Wild animals and infectious diseases

Wild animals and insects can be carriers for some very serious diseases, including rabies, tetanus, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, hantavirus, and the plague. Animal bites and scratches, even when they are minor, may become infected and spread bacteria to other parts of the body. Whether the bite is from a family pet or an animal in the wild, scratches and bites may carry disease. Cat scratches, for example, even from a kitten, may carry "cat scratch disease," a bacterial infection. Bites and/or scratches that break the skin are even more likely to become infected.

Immediate care for animal bites

What is rabies?

Rabies is a widespread, viral infection of warm-blooded animals. Caused by a virus in the Rhabdoviridae family, it attacks the nervous system and, once symptoms develop, is 100 percent fatal in animals.

In North America, rabies occurs primarily in skunks, raccoons, foxes, and bats. In some areas, these wild animals infect domestic cats, dogs, and livestock. In the United States, cats are more likely than dogs to be rabid. Generally, rabies is rare in small rodents such as beavers, chipmunks, squirrels, rats, mice, or hamsters. Rabies is also rare in rabbits. In the mid-Atlantic states, where rabies is increasing in raccoons, woodchucks (groundhogs) can be rabid.

How does rabies occur?

The rabies virus enters the body via the animal's saliva either through a cut, scratch, or through mucous membranes (such as the lining of the mouth and eyes), and travels to the central nervous system. Once the infection is established in the brain, the virus travels down the nerves from the brain and multiplies in different organs.

The salivary glands and organs are most important in the spread of rabies from one animal to another. When an infected animal bites another animal, the rabies virus is transmitted through the infected animal's saliva. Scratches by claws of rabid animals are also dangerous because these animals lick their claws.

What are the symptoms of rabies?

The incubation period in humans from the time of exposure to the onset of illness can range anywhere from five days to more than a year, although the average incubation period is about two months. The following are the most common symptoms of rabies. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

Symptoms of rabies may resemble other medical conditions and problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

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Online Resources of Infectious Diseases

 

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