Rabies and distemper catch eyes in headlines, leading to a lot of worry – and a lot of speculation about how to ‘manage’ populations of wildlife susceptible to the diseases in order to protect pets like cats and dogs. And as is the case with most concerns of this ilk, the simple solution lays with our own behaviour and actions, as opposed to laying in the fate of the wild animals.
Defender Radio was joined by Ontario veterinarian Dr. Christine Coghlan to discuss both these diseases and the simple steps pet owners can take to prevent transmission to their dogs and cats – and also prevent transmission back into wildlife populations or on to humans.
“Rabies is a virus that attacks their central nervous system,” Dr. Coghlan said. “It’s almost 100 per cent fatal. It’s transmitted via saliva, so usually bite wounds, but it can also get into skin sores or cuts, or in through the mouth or nose or eyes even. Until recently we hadn’t seen raccoon rabies since 2005 [in Ontario] due to a successful bait program from the [Ontario] Ministry of Natural Resources.
“Canine distemper virus is a highly contagious virus that’s transmitted through the air. It’s actually related to human measles, but people can’t get it," she said. "Generally, puppies are more susceptible, but also unvaccinated dogs. It has a mortality rate of about 50 per cent.”
Both of these viruses are frightening sounding – and they can be frightening to see when they’ve fully infected a non-human animal. Fortunately, there is something we can all do to help stop their spread.
“Both of these viruses, we have highly effective vaccines,” said Dr. Coghlan. “No vaccine is 100 per cent effective. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a dog or cat getting rabies if vaccinated, or a dog getting distemper if vaccinated.”
Dr. Coghlan also suggested keeping dogs leashed when they’re in areas with a lot of wildlife, and keeping both dogs and cats supervised other times.
Taking care of our pets with proper medical care and supervision can prevent conflicts and help reduce the prevalence of these viruses in wildlife populations (it can be passed back from dogs and cats), and also from people (rabies is transmittable to humans).