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Vaccinate Pets to Protect Against Rabies

Bay County - The Bay County Health Department is urging pet owners to verify that their cats are currently vaccinated for rabies. Fifteen Florida cats tested positive for rabies in 2010. Other Florida animals testing positive for rabies in 2010 included raccoons (75), bats (15), foxes (15), bobcats (4), otters (3), and one horse.

While the nearest rabid cats were in Santa Rosa and Leon Counties, a cat or dog may be exposed to rabies in any part of Florida. There is always rabies somewhere in the raccoon and bat populations of Florida.

Cats and dogs may be infected with rabies in a number of ways, including fighting with a rabid raccoon or picking up a rabid bat with their mouths. Bats on the ground look like leaves and dog or cat owners may not realize that their pet is playing with or eating a bat. A rabid bat was found on the west end of Panama City Beach in 2010.

Cats are infected with rabies, more often than dogs, because they are more likely to be free roaming or feral, tend to interact more closely with wildlife, and are less likely to be vaccinated. A rabid cat can infect a person through a bite or scratch. Rabies is a fatal disease. Once exposed to the rabies virus, a person will die without post-exposure medication (shots).

Keep vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs and cats. This requirement is important not only to keep your pets from getting rabies, but also to provide a barrier of protection to you if your animal is exposed by a rabid wild animal. An animal is considered unvaccinated if the vaccination has expired or was not given by a licensed veterinarian. Exposed unvaccinated animals are subject to lengthy quarantines or euthanasia.

Never pick up or handle stray or feral cats. Cats will often bite or scratch without warning and then run away. If the cat cannot be located for quarantine, rabies post-exposure medication will be recommended for the exposed individual.

To further protect you and your family from rabies:

• Never touch a bat! If you find a bat in your home or in another public area, call Animal Control or the Bay County Health Department immediately. Bats teeth are small and bites are not easily detected. Any physical contact with a bat is considered a possible rabies exposure.

• Don’t touch wild animals or stray domestic animals. Teach your children to stay away from animals that aren’t theirs.

• Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse sick animals to health. Call animal control or an animal rescue agency for assistance. No animal is too young to have rabies.

• Don’t leave pet food outside overnight. It will encourage raccoons to occupy areas near or in your home.

• Repair holes that allow wild animal’s access to your home’s attic and crawl spaces.

• Secure garbage in covered containers to avoid attracting wildlife.

If you or your children are bitten or scratched by a wild or domestic animal, wash the wound immediately and thoroughly with soap and water or just water if soap is not available. Call Animal Control or 911 and report the location of the animal, seek medical attention as needed, and report the injury to the Bay County Health Department, (850) 872-4720.

Please report abnormal or aggressive behavior in wild animals or domestic stray animals to Bay County Animal Control at (850) 784-4005. If an animal is suspected of having rabies, or has bitten or scratched a human, the animal must be quarantined or be tested in a laboratory.

For more information, please visit http://www.myfloridaeh.com/medicine/rabies/rabies-index.html or call 872-4720 ext. 1125.

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