What We Can Learn From a Rabid Groundhog Attacking a Dog in Maine


Author: Dr. Clarissa G. Noureddine, DVM, MS, MS

Earlier this month, there was a story about a rabid groundhog in Maine that attacked a dog near the dog’s home (Rabid groundhog attacks dog near home, Charlotte Observer). From time to time, we see news articles pop up like this that catch our attention and make us pause. For pet lovers, an obvious first question that comes to mind focuses on whether the dog was OK. Thankfully, the story reports that the dog received a booster shot [e.g. rabies vaccine booster] and is currently being quarantined, but the dog should be OK. But doesn’t a story like this also make you think a little deeper? It’s an unusual story because it’s uncommon to hear about a groundhog with rabies. Yet, it’s a reminder that rabies is a virus that can infect mammals – not just foxes, bats and raccoons that we tend to hear more about. The story also serves as a reminder that wildlife encounters are unpredictable (who would have thought a groundhog would charge a dog near it’s home?). Yet, the good news here is that for something like rabies, pet owners have the power to protect their pets by making sure rabies vaccines are always current.

Our ‘Paws to Protect’ focus topic for August centers around Vaccines and Wellness Care. Stories such as the one above remind us of the importance of staying on top of our pet’s preventive needs. In North Carolina, dogs and cats 16 weeks and older are required by law to have a current rabies vaccine. Furthermore, if a pet has an encounter with wildlife like the story with the groundhog, the pet needs to be evaluated not only to have the injuries addressed, but also to be assessed regarding rabies vaccine status, rabies vaccine booster needs, and/or potential quarantine (or even euthanasia, depending on the rabies vaccine status of the pet).

But it’s not just rabies that we need to think about. There are a number of other diseases that we can vaccinate against to protect our pets. While some vaccinations are considered ‘core’ and necessary for all pets, other vaccinations are given based on risk and lifestyle assessment (learn more about specific vaccinations for dogs and cats in this previous blog). This is an important reason why it’s a great idea for your pet to have an annual wellness exam along with the vaccinations. You can talk with our team and decide together with your pet’s doctor which vaccines are best for your pet.

One area of confusion about vaccines that some owners have is when to have a vaccine boostered. Admittedly, it can be confusing because it’s not the same for all vaccines or ages of pets. For example, puppies and kittens have to get their core combo distemper vaccines boostered multiple times before they are considered “fully protected”. This is because maternal antibodies remain present until about 15 to 16 weeks of age, and these antibodies can make the vaccine ineffective. Additionally, many vaccines require a series of 2 vaccines to be given 2 to 3 weeks apart when the animal first starts receiving a vaccine. Then, the vaccine is boostered annually to every couple of years depending on the vaccine. You can learn more here about specific vaccination schedules here. It is so important for owners to understand when to have a vaccine boostered because if the vaccine series is not given correctly, the animal is not protected against those diseases.

Although the story of the rabid groundhog attacking a dog occurred in Maine, there is no reason to think something similar could not happen in North Carolina. Let’s take that example and use it as a reminder to do all that we can to be proactive in protecting our pets from the things we can protect against. Give us a call today to discuss what examination, vaccination, and/or preventive needs your pet may have.