SAN ANTONIO In the last year the number of cases of rabies in the state of Texas has more than doubled.

Experts say the persisting drought in the state is forcing many of the common carriers of the disease out of their habitats and into neighborhoods in search of water and food. Its is creating more interactions between pets and rabid animals.

Rabies is lethal in all mammals including humans. That'sthe reason rabies vaccinations for cats and dogs in Texas are mandatory. Up until 1999 the state required yearly vaccines, but in 2000 the state began allowing veterinarians to administer the three-year rabies vaccine.

While the three-year vaccine is effective for three years, vets sayit is,unfortunately, opening gaps in rabies coverage.

Veterinarians say since the move totheoptional three-year shot; more and more clients have come in late to get their animals vaccinated - missing appointments, sometimes by years. It's a problem vets say wasn t as wide-spread when yearly appointments were required.

It is this gap in coverage that vets fear is leaving pets, as well as people, vulnerable to rabies.

Texas is one of 32 states to offer the three-year rabies vaccine, but it is up to each pet owner to decide which vaccine they want for their pet.

Individual counties and municipalities can, however, opt out of the three-year vaccine and require the one-year vaccine instead.

The Texas Department of Health Services maintains that since the shift to three-year vaccines the threat of rabies to people has been unchanged and that no correlation exists between required vaccinations and the incidence of rabies in cats and dogs.

The City of San Antonio s Animal Care Services does offer several free and low cost clinics where pet owners can get the necessary vaccinations.

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