Keep Yourself and Your Pets Safe from Rabies

When you’re out enjoying the warm weather, keep yourself and your pets safe from rabies.

The weather is getting warmer and if you find yourself enjoying more time outdoors, it’s a good time for a reminder to know how to protect yourself and your pets from animals that could carry rabies 

Most people have heard of rabies, a disease that is usually fatal for humans if it isn’t treated. Our pets – dogs and cats – are required to be vaccinated against rabies. While you are outdoors, though, you could find yourself face-to-face with a fox, raccoon, skunk, or bat that may have the disease. That’s why it’s important to take some basic precautions to help protect you and your pets from being infected. 

One of the best ways you can protect yourself and your animals is having your veterinarian vaccinate your pets for rabies and keeping their vaccinations up to date. Vaccinating domestic animals like dogs, cats, and horses, creates a protective barrier between wildlife and humans. If we protect them, we protect ourselves.

You can also protect yourself and your pets by: 

  • Appreciating wildlife from a distance 
  • Never adopting wild animals as pets 
  • Keeping your animals on your property 
  • Keeping garbage and pet food inside 

What should you do if you are bitten or think an animal may have exposed you to rabies?  

  • Don’t panic…but don’t ignore the situation either.  
  • If it can be done safely, capture or confine the animal or at least identify it before it runs away.
  • Wash the wound with soap and water and seek first aid.  
  • Call your healthcare provider. Your doctor can treat you for possible infections that a bite could cause and help determine if rabies vaccinations are needed.   
  • Report the bite to your local health department. 

You’re less likely to be exposed to rabies by staying away from wildlife. It’s not a good idea to feed or approach wild animals or to try to pet or handle them. If you think a wild animal needs help, call the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources or contact a licensed rehabilitator. Stray domestic animals, especially if they appear sick or injured, should be brought to the attention of local animal control officers. If you think a stray animal needs help, call your local animal control office for help.

Here are a few more tips on approaching dogs and understanding animal behavior and preventing bites:  

  • Do not approach a dog while they may feel threatened, protective, or territorial (sleeping, eating, playing with a toy, caring for puppies or injured). 
  • Pay attention to the animal’s body language and look for signs that the animal is tense, or its tail is stiff. Watch for a drawn back head or ears, furrowed brow, yawning, flicking the tongue, backing away, an intense stare or the eyes rolled so the whites are visible. 
  • If you see these signs or feel uncomfortable, do not scream or run away. Try to put something such as a purse, backpack or a jacket between yourself and the animal or dog.