This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care.
Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.
What is rabies?
Rabies is an infectious disease caused by a Rhabdoviridae
.How is rabies contracted?
A bite from an infected (rabid) animal transmits rabies. There are highly
unusual cases of individuals contracting rabies by inhaling it from bat
caves; but those cases are extreme and very rare
What animals can become rabid?
Any mammal can become infected if they are exposed to rabies. Therefore,
a bite from an iguana or a bird, even a wild one, poses no threat of rabies.
“Exposed” means bitten by a rabid animal.
If my child is bitten by a
pet gerbil do I need to worry about rabies?
No. Small pet mammals such as gerbils, hamsters, and guinea pigs are born
and raised in captivity and therefore they are never exposed to the rabies
virus. Additionally, if a hamster, gerbil, guinea pig, or even a rat were
attacked by a rabid animal they would not likely survive the attack and live
long enough to get disease and transmit the virus.
What animals do commonly carry rabies?
Rabies may occur in bat populations in all of the lower 48 states. In
addition to bats, some areas of the US also have rabies maintained in
terrestrial wild mammals. These include skunk (mid west mainly), raccoon
(eastern US), coyotes (Texas) and foxes (mainly in the Southwest).
How will I know if an animal is rabid?
The only conclusive way to know if an animal is (was) rabid is to
identify the virus in brain tissue after the animal is dead. Given that
rabies infects the brain it can cause a variety of clinical signs. There are
two forms of rabies: dumb and furious. Dumb rabies is observed as animals
that are too docile. They are not affectionate, but they will not run from
humans. Wild animals normally avoid human contact so if a wild animal does
not seem cautious when you approach it, it may be rabid. The other form of
rabies, furious rabies, is more commonly seen. This is the stereotypical
rabid animal that is vicious and will attack with out provocation. Foaming
at the mouth and excessive saliva are not always present! If a mammal acts
unusually aggressive, or displays any bizarre behavior, it may be rabid.
How is rabies managed in wildlife?
Currently there are programs in the Northeast and Southern United States to
vaccinate wild animals against rabies. The vaccines are oral baits and do
nothing to impact bat rabies.
Why should I vaccinate my pet against rabies?
Vaccines against rabies are available for dogs, cats, ferrets, horses,
sheep and cattle. The vaccination of house pets has multiple benefits.
First, it protects your animal from contracting rabies if a rabid animal
attacks them. Second, vaccinated pets form a “barrier population” that
minimizes the transmission of rabies from wildlife to humans. Finally, there
is no way to test an animal for rabies while it is alive. Therefore, if your
pet is unvaccinated, suspected to be rabid and has potentially exposed a
person, it would have to be killed in order to test the brain for the rabies
How do you test for rabies and why can’t it be done on a live animal?
How do you treat humans bitten by a rabid animal?
Rabies is an unusual virus because it never enters the blood stream.
Rabies travels along the nerves from the site of infection, the bite, into
the brain, and then concentrates in the salivary glands. This brain
infection is why you see unusual behavior in rabid animals. This method of
travel makes rabies undetectable in a live animal because rabies is
diagnosed by examining the brain microscopically and immunohistochemically
(using rabies antibody) to demonstrate the presence of the virus.
If the person has never been vaccinated against rabies: the wound should be
cleaned thoroughly, Human Rabies Immunoglobulin (antibody) should be placed
in the wound and injected into the muscle around the wound, and five
injections of rabies vaccine should be given over a month. (Vaccine
injections are in the arm similar to a tetanus shot.)
If the person has been vaccinated against rabies: The bite wound should
be cleaned thoroughly and two vaccine injections should be given. No
immunoglobulin is given.
If a person thinks they might have been exposed to rabies but don’t know
it is best to get the treatment. Rabies is 100% fatal once it reaches the
brain. When in
doubt, vaccinate anyway.
How do you treat a pet that is bitten by a rabid animal?
If the animal is vaccinated against rabies they should be revaccinated
immediately and then kept strictly under the owner’s control and observed
for 45 days.
If the animal is unvaccinated they are either killed immediately or kept
strict quarantine for six months and vaccinated one month before their
This Pet Health Topic was written by Sarah Hoggan, Washington State
University, Class of 2001 and Dr. Diana Stone, Washington State University.
Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or
your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.
Last Edited: Dec 20, 2007 4:16 PM