What is rabies?

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. It kills almost any mammal or human that gets sick from it.

Who gets rabies?

Only mammals get rabies; birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians do not. Wild animals frequently diagnosed with rabies are raccoons, skunks and foxes. Cats are the most common domestic animal diagnosed with rabies. Rabbits, squirrels, rats and mice and small pets like gerbils and hamsters seldom get it.

Where is rabies found?

While any mammal can get rabies, the rabies virus is most commonly found in wild animals like raccoons, skunks and foxes.  Bats may also carry the rabies virus.

How is rabies spread?

The rabies virus is in the saliva and the brain of rabid animals. It can be transmitted through a bite or by getting saliva or brain tissue in the eyes, nose, mouth, or in an open wound.

What are the symptoms of rabies?

Animals that are ill with rabies may have signs including abnormal behavior, difficulty swallowing, poor balance, paralysis and seizures. The first symptoms of people ill with rabies can be very similar to flu, but symptoms quickly progress and may include prickling or itching sensation at the site of bite, anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, and insomnia. Once any mammal becomes ill with rabies, progression to death typically occurs rapidly.

What should I do if I think I have been exposed to rabies?

If you are bitten, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and lots of water. If possible, capture the animal under a large box or can, or at least identify it before it runs away. Don’t try to pick the animal up and don’t damage the head of any animal that might need to be tested for rabies. Call an animal control or law enforcement officer to come get it. Notify your doctor immediately and explain how you got the bite.

Most people know when they have been bitten by a bat, but there are situations in which you should seek medical advice even in the absence of an obvious bite wound. For example, if you wake up to find a bat in your room, see a bat in the room of an unattended child, or see a bat near a mentally impaired or intoxicated person, do not destroy or discard the bat. Call your local health department for advice.

How can I help prevent and control rabies?

  • Have your veterinarian vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and selected livestock. Keep the vaccinations up-to-date.
  • If your pet is attacked or bitten by a wild animal, report it to the local health or animal control authorities. Be sure your vaccinated dog, cat, or ferret receives a booster vaccination.
  • Limit the possibility of exposure by keeping your animals on your property. Don’t let pets roam free.
  • Do not leave garbage or pet food outside.  It may attract wild or stray animals.
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets. Enjoy all wild animals from a distance, even if they seem friendly. A rabid animal sometimes acts tame. If you see an animal acting strangely, report it to your local animal control department and do not approach it.
  • Contact your local health department if you think you or your pet may have been exposed.

How can I get more information about rabies?


March 2013