Vaccinations are one of the most important parts of responsible pet ownership but many pet owners ignore or simply don’t know about local vaccination requirements.

Like in humans, vaccinations are an important part in establishing a healthy community and keeping devastating diseases at bay. With human vaccinations seeing a willful decline in the last few years what would happen if pets also went without vaccinations?

The most important vaccination in the pet world is for rabies. Every few years dogs and cats must be vaccinated against rabies to prevent infection and transmission to humans. Many people tend to think of rabies as an animal’s disease and they couldn’t be more wrong.

Rabies is a virus most commonly transmitted by infected animals in bites and scratches. The Mayo Clinic says that humans rabies can take up to three months to incubate before travelling through the nervous system causing swelling and inflammation in the brain. If it is not dealt with immediately the virus is always fatal in humans (aside from a handful of successful treatments worldwide).

Identifying a rabid animal may not be as simple as it has been portrayed in the media. While animals do become aggressive and hyperactive they can also seem sick and lethargic, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. The “foaming at the mouth” trope is accurate in some instances, but not always, with the foam being a result of increased saliva production.

Pets are much more susceptible to catching rabies from a wild animal simply because they are smaller, outside more often and lack the awareness to stay away. If a pet contracts rabies it may not be immediately apparent making the risk of transmission to the owner or other animals more likely.

According to the World Health Organization up to 99 percent of human rabies infections are from domestic dogs worldwide, with most human cases in the US coming from bats.

Since it is a lot harder to control rabies in the wild, the best way to prevent a major outbreak or transmission to humans is through pet vaccination. Like human vaccinations pet vaccinations enable the pet’s immune system to fight the virus before it can infect them. If all pets are vaccinated transmission to humans becomes almost non-existent.

If your community has many unvaccinated pets you are only one positive wild animal away from the danger of an outbreak. If an unvaccinated dog is bitten by a wild animal at home and goes to a dog park with other unvaccinated dogs all of the animals are at risk, as well as their owners. If an unvaccinated pet contracts the disease fighting it can become expensive to treat and in many cases the animal may not survive.

And while the United States hasn’t seen a rabies outbreak in many years the virus lingers in the wild and can become a problem if a pet community has a lot of unvaccinated animals. Additionally, the lack of human cases in the United States in the last few decades has made many people underestimate or overlook the severity of the disease and its prevalence still in the wild according to a report from the National Institutes of Health.

Rabies isn’t like a stomach bug or the flu, it can be devastating to pet owners both financially and emotionally. Keeping pet owners informed and encouraged vaccination and licensing programs are crucial for any community.