1. What is rabies?
Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system.
2. What animals may be affected by rabies?
All mammals (warm blooded, furred animals) can be affected by the rabies virus, but it occurs most often among wildlife species, such as bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes. Unvaccinated dogs, cats and livestock also may get rabies. Rats, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, chipmunks and muskrats almost never get rabies.
3. Do birds, snakes or insects get rabies?
No. Birds, fish, turtles, lizards and insects do not get rabies.
4. How do people become exposed to rabies?
Since the rabies virus lives in the saliva of rabid animals, a bite is the most common way the disease is spread. People may also become exposed to rabies by being scratched by a rabid animal or when the saliva gets into open wounds in the skin, or in the eyes, nose, or mouth.
5. Can I get rabies just by touching or petting a rabid animal? (I wasn't scratched or bitten by it.)
There is no danger from touching or petting a rabid animal unless saliva from that animal gets into an open wound, or your eyes, nose or mouth. If this happens, you should see your doctor immediately.
6. Can I get rabies by being near a rabid animal or where the animal has just been (for example, a raccoon in a backyard, barn or chimney?)
No. Exposure to rabies occurs by being scratched, bitten or by having saliva come in contact with an open wound or the eyes, nose or mouth. Just being in the same room or in the same vicinity does not result in exposure.
*If you find a bat in the same room in which you have slept, call the local agency responsible for administering the rabies program in your area for further information and guidance.
7. Can I get rabies by handling or touching my cat or dog that has been in a fight with a raccoon?
If you do not handle, pet, touch or examine your dog or cat within 2 hours following the fight, there is no danger of getting rabies. If you do handle your pet within 2 hours of a fight, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water and then contact your doctor or local health department for advice.
8. What are the symptoms of rabies in an animal?
Symptoms of rabies may vary widely from animal to animal. In any animal, the first sign of rabies is usually a change in behavior. The animal becomes either unnaturally withdrawn or unnaturally approachable.
In the "furious" form, the animal is excited, aggressive, irritable, and may snap at anything in its path. It loses all caution and fear of natural enemies. If the animal has the "dumb" form of the disease, it may appear unusually tame, affectionate, and friendly. Staggering, paralysis, and frothing at the mouth are sometimes noticed. Many animals have a change in the sound of their voice.
9. What should I do if I think my dog, cat, or farm animal has rabies?
Consult a veterinarian and report to the local health department if any person has been bitten or exposed to the suspect animal. Be sure to keep the animal confined until it can be examined by a veterinarian. Try not to expose yourself or other people.
10. What should I do if I see a stray dog, cat, or wild animal that I think may have rabies?
Do not feed, pet or handle any stray or wild animal. Keep your animals from coming into contact with it. Capture the animal, if possible, without risking exposure. If the raccoon is in a garage, close all doors and windows. Then call your local animal control agency for further instructions.
11. What should I do if I find a dead animal on my property?
If there has been human or animal exposure, contact your local health department for instructions. If there has been no human or animal exposure, the animal may be buried. If it is necessary to touch the animal, gloves should be worn. Bury the animal at least three feet deep, or dispose of it through the local animal control agency. DO NOT THROW IT OUT ALONG A ROAD OR IN A WOODS OR FIELD.
12. How can I protect my dog or cat against the threat of rabies?
All dogs and cats should be vaccinated against rabies by a veterinarian. Many states have a law that requires all dogs and cats over 6 months of age to be vaccinated against rabies by a veterinarian. Dogs and cats should be confined to your home or yard and walked on a leash to decrease their chance of exposure to rabid animals.
13. How long are rabies shots (vaccinations) for my dog or cat good?
For dogs or cats the first shot is only good for one year. The next (second) shot is effective for one or three years, depending on the vaccine used. Your veterinarian will provide a certificate that should give the expiration date of your dog's or cat's shot.
14. What is the earliest age I can begin to have my dog or cat vaccinated against rabies?
Three months of age. Twelve months later, a shot must be given to complete the primary vaccination series.
15. Will it hurt to vaccinate my dog or cat more often than required, such as every year, even though the rabies vaccination is good for three years?
Although not necessary, it will not harm your animal.
16. What other animals can be vaccinated against rabies?
There are no rabies vaccines approved for any wildlife species (such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and ferrets). Your veterinarian has vaccines that are approved for use in horses, cows, and sheep.
17. What should I do if my dog, cat or farm animal has been exposed to a wild animal that I think may have rabies?
The wild animal should be captured or killed, being careful not to damage the head, and submitted for rabies testing through the local health department. You should be careful not to get bitten or exposed to the wild animal. Assistance may be available through your local animal control agency.
18. If the wild animal is positive for rabies, what should I do with my dog, cat or farm animal?
If a dog, cat or farm animal has a current rabies vaccination, the animal must be boostered immediately by a veterinarian and restricted for 90 days. If the animal has no current rabies vaccination, or if the vaccination is not up-to-date, you must either destroy your dog or cat or hold it in strict isolation for six months in a manner approved by the local health department. Farm animal exposures are managed by the Department of Agriculture in most states.
19. What should I do if I am bitten, scratched or exposed to an animal?
Capture the animal if possible. If the animal is wild, try to capture or kill it without risking further bites. Try not to damage the animal's head.
Immediately wash the wound with plenty of soap and water, scrubbing the bitten area gently.
Obtain the owner's name, address, and telephone number.
Get prompt medical attention. Call your family doctor or go to the nearest emergency room.
Report the incident to the police, sheriff, animal control agency, or local health department.
20. What will be done with the animal that bit (or exposed) me to find out if it has rabies?
If it is a dog or a cat, it will be quarantined for 10 days, according to the order of the local health department to find out if had rabies at the time it bit you. Any other animal will probably have to be destroyed and the head submitted to a laboratory for testing.
21. If I am bitten (or exposed) by a rabid animal, what kind of rabies preventive treatment will I receive?
When treated in time, rabies can be prevented. After a person is bitten by an animal with rabies, a doctor must be contacted immediately and anti-rabies treatment begun. Once symptoms of rabies appear, the disease almost always causes death. The treatment consists of five doses of vaccine over a one month period, plus antiserum given in the beginning. None of the injections are given in the stomach area. The treatment is safe and no one who has received this treatment has died from rabies.
22. If rabies is in my neighborhood, should I get vaccinated against rabies?
Generally speaking, no. The pre-exposure vaccination is only recommended for certain high risk groups. These are people who regularly handle animals, and therefore, may be at high risk of exposure to rabies. High risk groups include veterinarians, animal control workers, trappers and raccoon hunters.
23. How long does the rabies virus live?
Outside of the animal's body, the rabies virus doesn't live very long. Sunlight rapidly destroys the virus. Inside of a dead animal's body, the rabies virus may live longer, depending on how far decomposed the animal's body is. Decomposition takes longer in cold weather.
24. What can I do to reduce my chance of getting rabies?
Be sure to vaccinate your dog and cat and keep it up-to-date. Vaccines are available for both cats and dogs which are effective for three years after the primary shots (two shots twelve months apart).