World Rabies Day is a Reminder to Vaccinate Your Pets

World Rabies Day is a Reminder to Vaccinate Your Pets
Wednesday, 28 September, 2016
Yarmouth Port, MA

Today marks World Rabies Day and reminds us that this disease, so rare in many places, still kills thousands of people every year. The large majority of the human deaths are children, and occur mostly in Africa and Asia. Official statistics list some 60,000 cases per year. However, as rabies is a disease of marginalized people, many cases are unreported.

Most incidents of human rabies result from bites of unvaccinated, infected dogs. Dogs are integral members of every human society on Earth, and negligent rabies vaccination policies place both dogs and people at risk. The International Fund for Animal Welfare approaches rabies from a One Welfare perspective, which addresses the interdependence of human and animal health and welfare around the world.

“In so many places with a rabies problem, the knee-jerk reaction is to kill as many dogs as possible,” said Kate Atema, Director of IFAW’s Companion Animals Program. “But killing dogs does nothing to stop the spread of rabies. Culls actually increase the rabies problem by opening space that unvaccinated dogs quickly fill. Dog culls also leave deep psychological scars in communities.”

The only effective way to stop the spread of rabies is to vaccinate as many dogs as possible. At least 70% of a dog population must be vaccinated each year to protect the people and animals in a given community. IFAW collaborates with local project partners in Indonesia, South Africa, Mexico and Northern Canada to make rabies vaccination accessible to all community members. We work together to build resilient communities in which all animals are respected and cared for. IFAW’s veterinary advisory helps local veterinarians, authorities, and human medical teams to combat rabies with the development of science-based policies and protocols. 

Rabies comes in two forms, “furious” and “dumb.” In cases of furious rabies, the animal is agitated and aggressive and likely to bite. The dumb form is characterized by disorientation and by partial or full paralysis. In both forms, animals may froth at the mouth, have difficulty swallowing, display abnormal behavior, as well as stiff walking, and seizures. These animals do not respond normally to humans, and should not be approached by anyone but a well-trained professional. Unfortunately, there is no way of testing for rabies in a live animal.

Anyone encountering an animal who displays these signs of rabies should immediately call their local animal control office, and should not approach the animal. If someone has been bitten by a potentially rabid animal, the first course of action is to wash the wound thoroughly with soap and running water for 15 minutes. Post-exposure treatment should then be administered by a health care professional as quickly as possible. Finally, the local health authorities should be notified.

On this World Rabies Day, IFAW is asking dog owners to ensure that their dogs have up-to-date vaccinations. Rabies vaccinations should be administered to all dogs, whether they are owned or unowned, pure-bred or mixed breed, old or young.

“There’s a common misperception that because rabies is rare in places like Europe and North America that our dogs don’t need vaccinations,” Atema continued. “Rabies is rare in these areas because we have worked so hard over the years to develop an effective rabies barrier through vaccination. That barrier has to be maintained. If we grow lax, rabies moves right back in. Moreover, it is always possible that our pets encounter wildlife like raccoons or bats, who can also transmit the virus. All dogs need lifelong protection with vaccines to keep both animals and people in the community safe from this deadly disease.”

No one needs to die of rabies. Rabies is 100% preventable. Please vaccinate your pets.

About IFAW

Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Photos are available at


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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project