The Truth about Rabies and Distemper

cat getting vaccine

Your veterinarian recommends giving your pet vaccinations for both rabies and distemper. As a good pet owner, of course you do as your vet suggests. In fact, rabies shots for domesticated animals (including dogs, cats, and ferrets) are required by law in most states. Distemper vaccinations are not required by law, but are highly recommended by most veterinarians. Most pet owners oblige by vaccinating their animals at their vet’s suggestion. But do you really know why you are vaccinating your pets?


Rabies is a virus that causes encephalitis of the brain. Encephalitis is, simply, an inflammation of the brain. This biggest risk of rabies is the spread of the virus to a human. Rabies is almost always fatal. Unless immediately treated (within ten days of exposure), the virus causes brain disease and death. The disease is spread through bodily fluids (including saliva) of warm blooded animals. It is because of this risk that most states have a rabies law requiring vaccinations. Death from rabies has decreased greatly since the vaccination discovery and requirements.
Rabies is a serious disease. It has been around for more than 400 years. It has a long incubation period, anywhere between two and twelve weeks. Once symptoms are present, it will only be a short time until the infected person or animal will die. The chance of survival once symptoms are present is slim. The symptoms of rabies include paralysis, anxiety, insomnia, agitation, confusion, paranoia, terror, and hallucinations. Eventually, delirium sets in. Rabid animals are often aggressive and confused. Rabies is deadly disease. Your veterinarian encourages you to have your pet vaccinated according to state laws for the protection of your pets and your family.


Canine distemper is a viral disease that affects domestic animals such as dogs and ferrets as well as wild animals. It is especially dangerous to puppies under six months old. Canine distemper is spread through bodily fluids as well as sharing food and water. Distemper affects the respiratory tract, nervous system, and optic nerves. Symptoms begin with a fever a few days after infection. Further symptoms include a runny nose, anorexia, and eye discharge. Following these symptoms another fever will occur leading to more serious symptoms including bacterial infections and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Canine distemper is treatable, but a dog that survives will have lasting effects. If a degeneration of the nervous system occurred, the dog will slowly lose mental and physical abilities and be in constant pain and suffering.
Feline distemper is different from canine distemper. It is spread through bodily fluids and may be transmitted through flea bites and long distance contact. Feline distemper is not transmittable to humans. The disease does the most damage to the intestinal tract, causing diarrhea and dehydration. The immune system is compromised by a decrease in white blood cells. This is a rapidly moving disease. Without treatment, a cat is unlikely to survive for more than a day.

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