Cats are a serious rabies threat
As we recognize World Rabies Day on Sept. 28, we are reminded that our furry feline friends – cats – are a serious rabies risk. While that may be surprising to some, the fact is that cats remain the top carrier of rabies among domestic animals in the United States. The number of rabid dogs has declined by 37 percent since 1999 – according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -but the number of reported rabid cats has actually increased and now surpasses dogs by a ratio of over 4 to 1.
Wild animals – such as raccoons – still harbor rabies far more frequently than cats. However, a study published this year by researchers from the CDC stated that “cats pose a disproportionate risk for potential human exposures compared with wildlifein part because people, especially children, are more likely to approach them.”
It is critical to vaccinate all domestic cats for rabies and keep those vaccinations current, but any cat that roams outdoors is at a much higher risk of contracting rabies than cats kept safely indoors. Feral cats, in particular, present a major public health risk. Feral cats are outdoors all the time, and the management of feral cat colonies through Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) programs “(does) not provide effective rabies vaccination coverage or cat population control,” according to the CDC-led study. On the contrary, TNR only increases the likelihood of interaction between feral cats and rabid wildlife.
In honor of World Rabies Day and for public health, we must recognize the risks posed by domestic cats roaming outdoors and effectively protect communities by removing feral cats from the landscape.
EDITOR’S NOTE: George Fenwich is president of the American Bird Conservancy.