Rabies is a zoonotic viral disease which is almost always fatal and can infect all mammals, including humans. Dogs are the main vector for human rabies. Both wild and domesticated animals can act as a natural reservoir for the disease, with human infection normally transmitted from dogs, cats, rodents and wild animals like bats, foxes and skunks. Rabies is transmitted by the bite of an infected animal with high virus concentrations in its saliva.
We have been incredibly lucky that Ireland has been free from rabies for many decades, and we have been able to enjoy free movement of our animals around the island with no fear of this horrendous disease.
There is no specific treatment for rabies, and even suspect cases should be euthanised due to the threat to humans from this disease. The best form of protection against this virus is through vaccination. Vaccines may only be prescribed by your veterinary practitioner from whom advice must be sought.
Early clinical signs of rabies include:
- behaviour changes - friendly animals may become cautious, shy animals may become bold
- in dogs, a tendency to excessively seek attention and lick owners
- hypersensitivity to noise or light
This can be followed by:
- increased aggression - dogs may try to break free and attack objects, animals and handlers
- eyes taking on a staring expression
- drooping lower jaw and more saliva than normal produced
The final stages of rabies include:
- weak muscles, especially legs and tail
- difficulty swallowing
- dropping eyelids
- saliva frothing at the mouth
- general paralysis followed by convulsions and coma before death
Do not approach live animals that you think may be rabid. Do not touch dead animals that may have had the disease. Instead you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline (NI) or DAFM (Ireland), so the animal can be tested.
The Department of Agriculture has now established an 8km surveillance zone from the source identified in Cork.
Temporary measures have been put in place including a ban on gatherings of dogs, cats or ferrets, including hunting, sales and at fairs Any dead mammals found in the area should be reported to the DAFM. The temporary measures will remain in place in for a month subject to review.
Owners of dogs, cats and ferrets are also advised to monitor the health and behaviour of their animals and report any abnormal or unusual behaviour.