A U.S. rabies vaccine is the answer to our pet health crisis

We are all aware of the childhood vaccine-preventable diseases we have become increasingly vulnerable to. In recent years, all of us have started to recognize that the issue is also more recently seeing a…

A U.S. rabies vaccine is the answer to our pet health crisis

We are all aware of the childhood vaccine-preventable diseases we have become increasingly vulnerable to. In recent years, all of us have started to recognize that the issue is also more recently seeing a much more widespread (and deadly) set of diseases afflicting dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, and any other animals. But why do we have to grapple with so many diseases in the first place?

Experts have found that the primary cause of most livestock and poultry diseases is a virus that is not naturally present in animals. In fact, the virus is carried by fleas, mice, mites, and mosquitoes. If someone happens to come into direct contact with a pet for a long period of time, then the pet can develop certain genetic changes that put the pet at risk of catching the disease. This appears to account for why dogs and cats develop a similar set of similar diseases when they come into contact with pets — either as pets or to accompany their owners on camping trips.

And when that contact occurs, the disease follows us all around to wherever we are going. Without a vaccine, the disease often causes symptoms that look similar to human illnesses, like Guillain-Barré syndrome. These symptoms are often life-threatening, so people who contract them do the best they can to treat their symptoms until they get better.

It does not make sense that a disease that is so easily transferable should not have a vaccination available.

Over time, we have learned that the deaths and illness caused by these diseases are nearly always due to direct or indirect contact with a pet — whether it be someone who comes in direct contact with a pet every single day of the year, or if they are invited to a campground that includes campers, hosts, and campers.

Yet we do not have a specific protection for campers and campers to help protect their pets against common animal diseases. Just because we know these diseases exist does not mean they are common in the first place. For example, although giardia is common in humans, there are no giardia vaccines currently available for humans and only one approved for dogs (Dosa) in the United States. This does not make sense.

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Only two dogs in the United States have been given a vaccine for rabies. Despite these facts, the United States claims to have the most extensive campaign to vaccinate dogs that there is anywhere. Why? We have an abundance of skunks.

To date, there are no prescribed shots for pets for rabies in the United States. But if the U.S. Animal Health Services followed the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the same vaccine could theoretically be given for various animal diseases like rabies and deer ticks. According to public health officials, a rabies vaccine is estimated to cost about $40 a dose. We estimate that vaccinating all U.S. dogs and cats (as much as 70 million dogs, 50 million cats, and nearly 100 million dogs in the U.S.) for rabies would cost around $65 million.

However, we think that more U.S. dog owners than any other group should be afforded a vaccine for rabies. Two rabies vaccines have been approved for dogs in the United States but one is currently in the pre-market approval phase. Without this vaccine, there is not one to be administered even if a dog or cat is vaccinated for rabies and again after it contracts the disease.

In addition to providing a safe and effective jab to protect our own pets from rabies, we believe that a vaccine for rabies could also provide a clear warning to dogs and cats when animals are likely to contract the disease. Unlike drugs, rabies vaccines do not feel any discomfort. When a dog or cat shows symptoms that can be conclusively detected as rabies, the dog or cat would be immediately given a shot to protect them.

We are grateful to the CDC and Health Canada for allowing me to break this story. Animal health officials have worked very hard to produce a vaccine for dogs, which is still in the research and development phase. It would be a shame if an absence of that vaccine prevented U.S. dog owners from having a safe, effective one for their own pets.

According to Public Health Canada, by February of this year, all dog vaccines that had been recommended through the regulatory approval process had been approved. If a dog and cat could benefit from having a vaccine, all other dogs and cats in the United States should, too.

In other words, we need a U.S. rabies vaccine.

(Lori King is the CEO of Stella Artois.)

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