Rabies Risk in Canada

Rabies Risk in Canada

Think rabies is a thing of the past or only found in undeveloped countries? Think again! Even in Alberta rabies infections occur. The virus is typically found in wildlife such as bats, skunks, raccoons, coyotes and foxes. These wild animals can come into contact with pets and humans. Rabies may affect all mammals, including human beings. It is the most lethal of all diseases that are transmissible to humans because it is fatal from the moment symptoms appear.

Message from Alberta’s Chief Provincial VeterinarianThe Northwest Territories is currently experiencing an outbreak of rabies in foxes around Tuktoyaktuk. Rabies is endemic in arctic foxes in northern Canada and outbreaks occur cyclically. There have been multiple cases of rabies in dogs translocated from northern Canada, including a puppy from Nunavut adopted in Alberta in 2013.  Unvaccinated puppies and dogs from NU, NT, and northern QC should be considered at high risk of having rabies. The relatively long and variable incubation period (on average 3 – 12 weeks in dogs) means infected animals can appear entirely healthy at the time of transport. Between 2008 – 2018, an average of 4 – 5 foxes or dogs per year were diagnosed with rabies in this region. These cases threaten human and domestic animal health and have the potential to reintroduce the arctic fox rabies variant into Alberta wildlife.

If you are still considering adopting a dog from Northern Québec, Northwest Territories or Nunavut, take the following precautions:
For a six-month period

  • Keep the number of people or animals in contact with your animal to a minimum. If the animal has symptoms, everyone who has had contact with it will have to undergo costly and onerous public health interventions.
  • Keep a log containing contact information about the people and animals exposed to your dog during this period. Also note the contact dates.
  • Have household pets vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days before the new dog arrives.
  • Keep your animal on a leash when you take it out and do not let it off the leash unsupervised any place where it can run away. Avoid any contact with people or with other animals during these outings.
  • Avoid giving away or selling your animal during this period.
  • Inform anyone who attends to your animal (veterinarian, boarding kennel worker, groomer, visitor) about these recommendations.

See a veterinarian immediately and isolate your animal if it shows any signs of the disease, for example:

  • Change in behavior (aggressiveness or sudden fatigue without reason).
  • Weakness or paralysis of the limbs and staggering.
  • Lowered head, slack jaw or abnormal facial expression.
  • Excessive salivation.
  • Unusual vocal expression.
  • Repetitive biting for no reason.
  • Decreased appetite or water intake.

When you make your appointment with the veterinarian, specify that your animal comes from Northern Québec, Northwest Territories or Nunavut.

Rabies is 100% preventable through vaccination. Vaccinating your pets not only protects them, but all of the people they come in contact with. Rabies vaccinations are ineffective for animals that are already infected. Transmission of the virus occurs through the saliva, typically through a bite or possibly a scratch. The virus attacks the central nervous system and brain and can lead to death within days of symptoms becoming apparent. Rabies is fatal once symptoms appear. There is no cure. Early symptoms include fever, headache, weakness and discomfort escalating to insomnia, anxiety, confusion, paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hyper salivation, difficulty swallowing and fear of water.

If you or your pet is bitten by an animal, wild or domestic, wash the wounds with soap and water for a minimum of 10 minutes and seek immediate care to assess for potential rabies concerns and treatment. To find out if your pet is up to date on their rabies vaccine, or to book an appointment to have them vaccinated call Chestermere Veterinary Clinic at 403-272-3573.

Sources:
​Government of Quebec. Rabies in Animals. February 15, 2021. www.quebec.ca/agriculture-environnement-et-ressources-naturelles/sante-animale/maladies-animales/rage-chez-les-animaux/

CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rabies. February 15, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/.

WHO World Health Organization. Rabies. February 15, 2021. http://www.who.int/rabies/en/.

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