Dogs and cats should receive their first rabies vaccinations before three months of age. Picture: Supplied

The theme for this year’s World Rabies Day, taking place on September 28, focuses on vaccination as the foundation of rabies prevention and control efforts – ‘Rabies: Vaccinate to Eliminate’. 

Dog bites cause almost all human rabies cases in South Africa, and globally, vaccinations are the most effective way to reduce the risk of this disease, said Dr Guy Fyvie, Hill’s Pet Nutrition’s Nutritional Advisor.

South Africa’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development holds regular vaccination clinics in key areas that have rabies outbreaks or scares. This is predominantly in the eastern part of the country. However, Dr Fyvie explained that it remains our responsibility to have our dogs and cats vaccinated against the disease.

Dogs and cats should receive their first rabies vaccinations before three months of age. They’ll receive their second vaccination at three months, a third within 12 months, and annually thereafter. In SA it is law that pets are vaccinated against rabies.

“In South Africa, the disease is still very present, particularly in our rural areas where many dogs are not vaccinated against the virus. In addition, rabies is commonly reported among stray or feral dogs and cats,” said Fyvie.

Sadly, it is children who are especially at risk of encountering animals infected with rabies, as they are more inclined to want to play with and pet them. Affected animals also lose their fear and will approach people and places they normally don’t. 

Parents should therefore keep a close eye on their children and discourage them in all circumstances from interacting with feral, stray or unfamiliar animals that may be acting abnormally. 

Dr Fyvie provides some tips on how to keep you and your family safe from rabies:

  • Children under the age of 15 make up 40 percent of the reported cases of being bitten by a suspected rabies-infected animal. It is important to warn your children of the risks of interacting with strays and pets that are not theirs or that are acting differently.
  • Never take a chance. If bitten, scratched or in contact with their saliva, assume the worst and follow the treatment protocol. There is simply nothing that can be done once the symptoms present themselves.
  • Ensure your pets’ rabies vaccinations are up to date and if you are in an immediate outbreak area, have your pet revaccinated. If you can’t provide proof of a pet’s vaccination status, and your pet encounters a rabid animal, it will be euthanised regardless of whether or not your pet is showing symptoms.
  • Never let your pets roam the streets.
  • Do not let your pets interact with unknown animals. An animal can become infected by fighting with another animal, even over a fence.
  • Do not approach stray dogs or cats, especially if they are showing abnormal behaviour, such as being aggressive or very docile.
  • If you suspect an animal is infected, contact the health authorities immediately. Do not try to restrain the animal yourself.
  • Donate to a welfare organisation that conducts rabies vaccination outreach programmes. The higher the vaccinated animal population, the less chance there is of an outbreak.