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Friday, 1 November 2013

Real rabies threat?

After the confirmed cases of rabies in two puppies imported from Bulgaria to the Netherlands, and in a kitten in France, I’m getting worried that it won’t be long before the UK is affected.

Should I consider immunising my Springer against rabies?

Judy Fitzpatrick, by email

Richard Allport, vet, advises…

Rabies is a frightening disease and a constant concern. Since the relaxation of the old strict quarantine regulations and the introduction of ‘pet passports’ there has been a massive increase in the number of dogs travelling into and out of the UK. So far – and being an island nation helps with this – we have been lucky enough to avoid an influx of rabies cases.

As a slight side issue here, we are not actually rabies free in the UK. A type of rabies does exist in some bats (in fact only in a single species – Daubenton’s Bat) and this is transmissible to humans, so do avoid handling a bat should you ever be in close proximity to one.

However, even on the continent cases of rabies in pets are very rare, and are (so far) confined to pets brought into Western Europe from outside the area, although as I am writing this the origin of the kitten in France affected by rabies is unknown. As far as the UK is concerned the risk is still very, very small, even though recent relaxations of the previous vaccination rules mean that dogs can now leave or enter the UK three weeks after a rabies vaccination, despite the incubation period for rabies being longer than this in some cases.

The real risk is from a dog or cat being smuggled into the UK, or arriving with false documentation; or of a dog with a pet passport contracting rabies whilst abroad due to vaccine failure.

There might appear to be a strong argument, therefore, for applying for a pet passport and getting your dog vaccinated against rabies. But a word of caution – Rabies and Leptospirosis, are the two vaccines that cause more side effects than all other vaccines. Adverse effects such as fever, loss of appetite, anaphylactic shock, and autoimmune haemolytic anaemia (amongst others) have all been reported. If you don’t have to give either of them, in this case particularly the rabies, best not to. In my view, at present the risk of your Springer experiencing adverse effects to the rabies vaccine is far greater than the risk of not vaccinating and possibly contracting rabies.

Of course, the situation could change, but at the moment I think our island nation is unlikely to be afflicted by this serious disease.

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