Veterinarians can occasionally fall into a pattern of complacency when talking about preventive medicine.
Often our repetitive soapbox speeches about vaccinations and parasite prevention can start to feel canned and stale and not important for “real life” situations. I can only imagine that we sometimes sound like a broken record to our clients as we repeat some of the same recommendations for our pet patients. Once in a while a case comes along that reemphasizes the importance of what we are talking about and trying to prevent with “wellness care”. Over the last 2 years we have had a few cases of heart worm disease identified on routine screening tests in local Tucson dogs. Cases that highlight the importance of monthly heartworm prevention, even in our desert climate. There is a current very high level of Distemper virus cases that is affecting intake and adoptions from our local shelters and points out the importance of Distempter – Parvo vaccination for our dogs particularly at a young age.
Perhaps the single most important part of preventive care is the Rabies vaccination. Not only to protect the health of our cats and dogs, but for ourselves, our children and the public at large. As a new veterinarian I certainly understood the potential risks for Rabies with pet and wildlife interactions – but it always seemed more theoretical than real. Rabies vaccines are required to license dogs in Pima County and of course, to board an animal or travel. I also discussed with owners the legal protection a current Rabies vaccine would have in the case of an animal bite. Potentially, a well mannered cat or dog might bite a person and if the Animal Control authorities were involved, a quarantine process could potentially force a dog or cat into a facility for an extended period. With a current vaccine, most of these animals can be quarantined at home.
I recently had an experience that dramatically altered my perspective on Rabies. Our home is a couple of blocks away from Sabino Veterinary Care. Like most of our neighbors we enjoy glimpses of wildlife – occasional Javalina, Coyote, Bobcat, numerous birds, and acrobatic bats in the evenings.
Growing up in Tucson I don’t remember bats or mosquitoes on summer evenings, but certainly over the last several years they have become abundant. We even find bats roosting under our back porch eves. Last week at about 7 am I notice a bat returning to roost, I thought it seemed a little odd with the sun up for the past 2 hours. I pointed him out to Susan and we watched him from our kitchen window fly around the back porch. It became apparent that he was struggling and he flew into the window and eventually down to the ground near some grass. At this point we became concerned and kept our dogs inside while I went out and netted him with the pool skimmer off a short retaining wall. He was twitching and unable to fly. Taking extreme care to avoid contact, I placed him in a cardboard box and called Animal Control. They picked him up and later notified me that he was indeed Rabies positive.
This brought home to me how important the Rabies vaccine is for all of our cats and dogs. If I had not seen this bat for the few seconds he was flying around the back porch – our dogs would have been out in the back yard with him that morning. I am certain one of them would have found the bat and been exposed. Potentially putting the rest of the family at risk. Santa Cruz County to our south, is currently under a Rabies Advisory with 13 cases of Rabid skunks found in the first part of 2014. 17 cases were identified in this area during 2013. The Arizona Department of Health has some good information about rabies on their website.
I want to emphasize that as a resident of the Tucson community and a member of the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association. (AzVMA) I still love the sight of bats in close proximity – in my opinion their benefit far outweigh the risks. I intend to continue to support their efforts to feast on our herd of mosquito, and share our hummingbird feeder during the early fall. But I will continue to use this story to illustrate how the Rabies vaccine is far more important than just a routine compliance step for boarding and license.