When you think about your family pet, what comes to mind? Sloppy kisses, playtime, outdoor walks … and rabies? Probably not. Most of us think of rabies as something only carried by wild animals, but in reality, any animal can be infected, including people. The best way to protect your family and pets from contracting rabies is to be informed, so let’s get familiar with the facts.
What is rabies?
Rabies is a disease caused by the rabies virus. It may take several weeks or even a few years for people to show symptoms after getting infected with rabies, but usually people start to show signs of the disease 1 to 3 months after the virus infects them. The early signs of rabies can be fever or headache, but this changes quickly to nervous system signs, such as confusion, sleepiness, or agitation.
What most people don’t know is that rabies isn’t something you can cure. Once someone with rabies infection starts having these symptoms, it’s usually fatal. This is why it is very important to talk to your doctor or health care provider right away if any animal bites you, especially a wild animal.
Can animals transmit rabies to me?
Yes, many kinds of animal can pass rabies to people. Wild animals are much more likely to carry rabies, especially raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes, and coyotes. However, any warm-blooded animal can pass rabies to people, including dogs and cats.
People usually get rabies from the bite of an infected animal. Many animals, such as dogs, cats, and horses are vaccinated against rabies, but you should always wash any bite thoroughly and check with your doctor about what to do if any animal bites you.
And remember, if you allow your dog or cat to roam freely outside while unattended, you don’t know what potentially infected wild animals it’s had contact with. If your pet is bitten without your knowledge, you could both be in trouble.
How can I protect myself from getting rabies? Be a responsible pet owner:
- Keep vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs, cats, and ferrets. Vaccinating once will not protect your pet for life. Regular vaccinations are important not only to keep your pets from getting rabies, but also to provide a barrier of protection for you if your pet is bitten by an infected animal.
- Never feed stray animals, even the neighborhood cats. You don’t know which, if any, have been vaccinated, and most rabies-infected animals will not show the signs of rabies that you expect until their final hours and you run the risk of being scratched or bitten. One scary statistic – in 2010, cats ranked #2 in Pennsylvania for the highest number of confirmed rabies cases!
- Keep your pets under direct supervision so they do not come in contact with wild animals. If your pet is bitten by a wild animal, seek veterinary assistance for the animal immediately.
- Call your local animal control agency to remove any stray animals from your neighborhood. Do not try to nurse sick animals back to health in your home. They may be unvaccinated and could be infected by the disease.
- Enjoy wild animals (raccoons, skunks, foxes, etc.) from afar. Do not handle, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter, and teach children not to handle them, even if they appear friendly.
Where can I get more information about rabies?
Learn more about rabies at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) rabies website at www.cdc.gov/rabies or the CDC rabies kids page at www.cdc.gov/rabiesandkids which includes questions and answers, prevention and control information, and more.