The Northwestern Health Unit is urging residents to make sure that their pets’ vaccinations are up-to-date. This comes as pet ownership laws under Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act has been updated to better protect pets and animals across the province.

 As of July 1, 2018,

• All dogs, cats and ferrets over the age of 3 months in Ontario must be vaccinated regularly against rabies 
• All horses, cattle and sheep intended to come into direct contact with the general public must also be vaccinated; and 
• Horses, cattle and sheep which are only accessible to persons responsible for their care and control will remain exempt from the rabies immunization requirement

The NWHU also advises pet owners that vaccinations should be updated every one to three years depending on the vaccine given.

“Previously, this only applied to parts of Ontario. Now, it applies to all of Ontario. Animals must be immunized,” said Dr. Kit Young Hoon, the Medical Officer of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit.

“The risk of rabies in our region remains low, but it’s important to keep the risk low. The easiest way to do that is to ensure that all pets are vaccinated.”

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous systems and humans and other animals can be infected if they are bitten or scratched by an infected animal.

To prevent rabies:

• Keep your pets rabies vaccination up-to-date 
• Avoid feeding or handling wild animals
• Avoid strays and don’t pet animals you don’t know 
• Supervise your pets. Don’t let them run free, especially at night
• Don’t leave your pet’s food outside. This can attract other unwanted animals 
• Do not touch domestic or wild animals that look sick or are acting strangely even if you want to help them

If you have been bitten by an animal:

• Wash the wound with soap and water 
• Contact your family doctor immediately. The Health Unit can provide post-exposure rabies vaccine to your doctor if needed
• As soon as you can, call the health unit to report the incident.

Young Hoon noted that the Northwestern Health Unit is notified if a pet has bitten a person, and will check to see if the animal has been immunized against rabies. A fine can also be applied to the pet's owner if the animal was not vaccinated.