The risk of exposure to rabies is often held up by anti-TNR folks as a reason not to employ trap-neuter-return programs. And a recent letter to the editor asserted that as TNR programs increase in number across the country, more people will be at risk of exposure due to contact with community cats.
The chart above shows the number of confirmed cases of rabies in cats, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), for every year since 1992. There is certainly no upward trend in infected cats. The total number of infected cats in 2013, 247, is the lowest yearly number reported since 1992. Far more cats are tested than return positive results as well; 247 is just over one percent of all cats tested over the entire year.
We believe that implementing TNR programs DECREASES the potential for human exposure to rabies. The numbers show there has been no increase in the number of rabid cats to watch out for, and with more compassionate caretakers employing TNR in their communities, MORE cats will be vaccinated against the disease, as rabies vaccination is an integral part of every TNR program. With more outdoor cats vaccinated, the chance of domestic cats encountering a sick animal outside will decrease as well.
We must also stress the importance of vaccinating one's companion animal and keeping detailed records of her vaccination history. An animal must be euthanized or already dead to be tested for rabies, and quite often uninfected animals are killed simply because their vaccination status is unknown. An available vaccination history can be a lifesaver for a community or companion cat, and can also save a person the trouble of unnecessarily receiving post-exposure treatments.