If a cat has rabies blame people, not the cat.
In the USA, people who like to criticize domestic, stray and feral cats often raise the topic of rabies. They say all domestic cats should be kept inside and all stray and feral cats should be exterminated. In support of their argument they say that stray and feral cats are sometimes rabid, which causes alarm amongst people. These comments damage the image of the cat but the sad fact is that rabies in cats is on the rise (we are told²). I’d like to see if I can put some balance back into the argument.
Curbing and controlling rabies
Is it fair to say that the federal and state governments, of America, could do more to prevent and even extinguish rabies in the USA? I fully understand that it is more difficult to control rabies in a large country such as the USA which is not an island. The UK’s success in eradicating rabies is in part because it is an island nation.
Yet, looking at Europe one discovers that Germany has been declared rabies free since 2008, as has Belgium. The Netherlands has been rabies free since 1923. These countries are connected by land to other European countries. A comparable state in the USA would be, for example, Virginia where there were 572 cases of rabies in 2009. None of the US states are rabies free. Clearly there is more to consider in respect of preventative measures than simply being surrounded by water.
Subject to a decent counter argument I have to conclude that the US could do more to control rabies. This is about people, not cats.
We are told that rabies was rare in the northern states of the US but since the 1970s there has been a rabies epidemic amongst raccoons in those states. The reason? Hunters who transported infected raccoons from the south to the north. The actions of people exacerbated the rabies problem in the USA.
Between 1980 and 1997 there were 22 documented cases of rabies amongst people. Of these 19 were caused by bats (86%). That puts some perspective into the cat rabies discussion.
Rabies – Dogs versus Cats
Cats are 3.7 times more likely to be rabid than dogs (81 dogs versus 300 cats in USA in 2009)². Why is this? There are two obvious reasons and both are exclusively to do with….you guessed it, people.
Vaccinations – visits to vet
Although there are a similar number of cats and dogs in the USA (74m cats to 70m dogs¹), people with dogs take their companion animal to the vet far more frequently than do cat owners and they spend far more money than cat owners.
- dog vet visits: 2.6 per year (2012)
- cat vet visits: 1.6 per year (2012)
- dog vet expenditure per dog per year (2012): $227
- cat vet expenditure per cat per year (2012): $90
- **36% of USA cat-owning households did not visit a veterinarian in 2006¹**.
The figures suggest that cat owners care less about their cat’s health than dog owner’s do about their dog’s health. This almost certainly translates to an occasional failure to vaccinate against rabies. Once again the cause of increased rabies amongst cats is people and irresponsible cat caretaking.
I presume rabies vaccinations for companion animals is obligatory in the USA, on a state by state basis, but the obligation is not properly enforced. When a cat is taken across the state border there should be a rabies vaccination certificate but this doesn’t stop cats contracting rabies in the state where they live.
The lack of a complete vaccination program for cats is compounded by cat caretakers letting their unvaccinated cats roam free where they can contract the disease from the wild cat species reservoir.
Admittedly, it is tough to control rabies in the USA but I sense more can be done to control it at various levels and in various ways and this is in the hands of people. The rabid cat is the messenger of irresponsible cat ownership.
If cat haters and people who dislike cats want to criticize an animal they should direct it at the human species.
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