Rabies Vaccination Required for All Cats in Illinois

Jan 26, 2020 / Preventive Health / Public Health / Cats

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Vaccinated Pets Protect Public Health

Dr. Ashley Mitek, assistant teaching professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and small animal Extension veterinarian, compiled the following FAQs about the new cat rabies law, with help from veterinary oncologist Dr. Alycen Lundberg and public health veterinarian Dr. Will Sander.

When does the new cat rabies law go into effect in Illinois?

January 1, 2020. This new legislation (SB 131) amends the Animal Control Act and requires all cat owners to have their pets vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian.

Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can spread from animals to people, and is fatal. This new law aims to protect cats as well as the public in Illinois.

Are any cats exempt from rabies vaccination?

Yes. Feral cats are exempted. However, if feral cats are presented to a veterinarian for sterilization, they must be vaccinated. The person presenting the feral cat to the veterinarian is responsible for covering the cost of rabies vaccination, according to the new law.

Cats younger than 4 months of age are also exempt.

Do cat owners need to register their pet with their local county animal control office?

Yes. All cat owners will be issued a numbered collar tag after vaccination (similar to the canine tags). Please check with your local county animal control for fees and procedures.

I just adopted a kitten. Do I need to have him vaccinated?

If the kitten is less than 3 months of age, he is not eligible for vaccination. However, cats can be vaccinated as early as 3 months of age and are required to be vaccinated once he turns 4 months old under the new law.

Is a “booster” shot required?

Yes. All cats must receive a second rabies vaccination within one year of the first, according to the new law. Talk to your local veterinarian about appropriate timing intervals between vaccinations.

My cat lives indoors. Do I still need to vaccinate her against rabies?

Absolutely. Rabies is a fatal disease in all mammals, including humans. The virus is still present in populations of wild animals. Because pets come in close contact with humans, it is imperative that all dogs and cats be vaccinated against rabies to protect the public.

Indoor cats occasionally escape to the outdoors, where they may be bitten by rabid wildlife (sometimes unbeknownst to the owner). And vice versa, rabid wildlife (such as bats) may enter homes and bite an indoor cat.

Is rabies still a problem in Illinois?

Yes! The Illinois Department of Public Health identified at least 84 rabies-positive bats in the state in 2018. That number was up significantly compared with 2017, when only 58 rabid bats were identified statewide.

Vaccinated pets help keep pet owners and the general public safe – so help save a life and keep your pet vaccinated, too!

I heard vaccines can cause cancer in cats?

Injection-site sarcomas were first identified in the early 1990s. Since then, we have a better understanding of this rare phenomenon and its myriad causes, which include injections as well as foreign materials other than vaccines, such as steroids, antibiotics, and suture. Although research is ongoing, the cause is likely an increased area of inflammation at the injection site.

Although there is a small risk of cancer, the benefits of protecting your pet, and family members, from this deadly virus outweigh those risks. The risk of a cat developing an injection-site sarcoma is small. Studies estimate the risk is 1 in 1,000 to approximately 1 in 10,000 cats vaccinated.

We recommend that you speak with your family veterinarian if you are concerned about vaccinations in your feline pet. There are several procedures in place to mitigate the risk to your pet while still affording them protection from a deadly virus, such as using non-adjuvanted vaccines and vaccinating only as frequently as necessary (using a 3-year vaccine vs. a 1-year vaccine if available). Additionally, vaccinating distally on the limbs can make the treatment of cancer more manageable should it develop.

[Note: the paragraph above was revised slightly on Feb. 3, 2020.]

Why did Illinois enact this law?

In recent years, cats are more likely than dogs to contract rabies in the United States. For that reason, many states have already enacted laws requiring the vaccination of dogs and cats. This new legislation is an effort to keep the public as well as feline pets safe from this deadly virus.

What are the most recent statistics for the prevalence in rabies in dogs and cats in the United States?

According to an article published in the January 15, 2020, edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association,Public Veterinary Medicine: Public Health: Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2018,” there were nearly four times the number of cats (241) with confirmed rabies than dogs (63) with confirmed rabies in the U.S. last year.

Here are the relevant sentences from the article:

“In 2018, 22,418 dogs were tested for rabies, and 63 (0.3%) were confirmed rabid. This represented a 1.6% increase from the 62 rabid dogs reported in 2017…

“There were 21,764 cats tested for rabies in 2018, of which 241 (1.1%) were confirmed rabid. This represented a 12.7% decrease in the number of rabid cats, compared with the 276 reported in 2017.”

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