With spring approaching, the St. Mary’s County Health Department is reminding residents about the dangers of rabies and encouraging pet owners in particular to take action to protect their animals and their families from exposure to this potentially deadly disease.  Residents are reminded that bites and scratches by any animal should be reported to the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office at 301-475-8008.  Animals that display unusual or aggressive behavior may pose the threat of rabies and should be reported immediately to Animal Control at 301-475-8018.

Pet owners are urged to check their pet’s record to make sure the rabies vaccine is current.  Adequate vaccination is important to protect a pet and its family from the threat of rabies. Domestic animals that are not vaccinated against rabies are vulnerable to this potentially fatal disease, particularly if they spend time outdoors.

Rabies is spread through the saliva of an infected animal.  In St. Mary’s County, the main carriers of rabies are wild animals including raccoons, skunks and foxes.  Allowing pets to roam unsupervised, and approaching unknown animals, including domesticated pets, increases the likelihood of coming into contact with an infected animal and the saliva that could spread the disease.

Owners caring for their pet after contact with a possibly rabid animal are warned that the rabies virus may persist in traces of saliva for up to two hours.  As a precaution, pet owners should avoid direct contact with saliva from a possibly rabid animal which may be found on a pet’s fur.  Domestic animals that have contact with a rabid animal may develop this disease if protective measures are not taken. When a pet has a current rabies vaccine and has been exposed to known or suspected rabies, a rabies booster vaccine and 45 day quarantine are necessary. When a pet does not have a current vaccine and has been exposed to known or suspected rabies, the options available to pet owners are to have the pet humanely euthanized or have the pet vaccinated and held in strict isolation for six months.

Rabies in cats, dogs and ferrets is preventable through adequate and regular vaccination.  Maryland requires cats, dogs and ferrets four months and older to be currently vaccinated against rabies.  Through a partnership with the St. Mary’s Animal Welfare League, low cost rabies vaccination clinics will be held the second Monday of each month from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. through November 2013 at the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds in Leonardtown. The cost is $10 per shot.  For more information call 301-373-5650 or visit the website at www.smawl.org.

For more information about rabies and rabies prevention, please visit our website at www.smchd.org or call the health department at 301-475-4321.