Rabies in Hamilton: a time for caution, but not fear

A rise in rabies cases in Hamilton, Ontario, and the recent discovery of a domestic cat who had contracted the deadly virus has led the city to issue a warning to residents. But now is not a time for fear; it is a time for reasonable caution.

Rabies is a zoonotic disease that is usually passed through the saliva of an infected animal. Since 2015, an unusually high number of verified cases of rabies in wildlife has been documented in southern Ontario. This most recent case has prompted public health officials to ask residents to not interact with stray, unfamiliar cats, and repeat their reminders to not feed, touch, or handle wild animals in the city and the surrounding rural areas.

Podcast: Veterinarian discusses rabies and distemper in Ontario

While the Ministry of Natural Resources continues to monitor this program, and will likely continue the use of a largely successful vaccine-bait program, it is important that residents are aware of the disease and that any mammal can carry the virus, and may not always appear symptomatic. Here are a few things you need to know about rabies and disease prevention in Ontario:

  • All mammals can carry rabies
  • Various illnesses can look like rabies
  • Unusual behaviour does not necessitate illness, and animals that appear healthy could be carrying a disease
  • Feeding pets outdoors, or providing food to stray animals and wildlife, can create an environment that increases the risk of a disease spreading, as well as increase the risk of exposure for pets and people
  • Keeping your pets vaccinated and not allowing them to roam (keeping cats indoors and dogs on leash) or interact with wildlife is the best way to prevent infection
  • Long-term strategies like vaccination and bait-drops have proven most successful in managing rabies
  • If you see an orphaned, injured, or ill animal, do not try to handle them yourself – instead, contact your local animal control or wildlife rehabilitator

Rabies is a naturally occurring disease in the world, and responsible management of domestic animals, along with education for people, and vaccination programs for pets and wildlife, can keep all of our families – wild included – healthy and happy.

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