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What is rabies? Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system of mammals. In the last stages of the disease, the virus moves from the brain into the salivary glands and saliva. From there the virus can be transmitted through a bite or by contact with mucous membranes (nose, mouth, and eyes). The incubation period for the disease is variable: between 2 weeks and 6 months. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms occur. Changes in behavior are common in rabid animals: nocturnal animals are seen during the day, animals are not afraid from humans, become aggressive, attack other animals or people without provocation, may have paralysis of the limbs or throat, or just lay down.
Who can get rabies? Any mammal can get rabies, including humans, dogs, cats, cows, and horses. In North America, raccoons, bats, skunks, foxes, and coyotes, are the animals most commonly diagnosed with rabies. However, in Mexico and other Latin and Central American countries, dogs are the common carrier of rabies. Other mammals also get rabies.
How can I protect my animals and myself? The best protection against rabies is vaccination of pets and avoidance of risk. Vaccination of dogs and cats is required by law. Keep your pets indoors and maintain the vaccinations current. Consult your veterinarian about vaccination or farm animals. If your dog or cat fights with a raccoon or any other rabies carrier, saliva with the virus could be present in the wound or in the coat of your pet. Handle your pet with care: cover the pet with a towel, use gloves to handle the animal, minimize the number of people handling the pet, call animal control, and take your pet to the veterinarian. Do not feed or attract wild life to your yard, or try to capture wildlife. Call animal control or animal damage control personnel, if you suspect that there is a rabid animal in your yard. Animal controllers are trained and equipped to deal with rabid animals. Do not allow bats to live in your house attic or chimney. Remember: bats carry rabies. Although humans can be vaccinated for rabies, this is mostly done for people in high risk groups, such as veterinarians and animal controllers. However, if you are interested in vaccination, consult your physician. If you hunt, use gloves while skinning animals in particular while handling nervous tissue or organs (spine and brain for example). Avoid picking up dead or abandoned animals, and do not capture or eat animals that do not look or act normal.
What should I do if my pet gets bitten by a rabid animal? If your pet is bitten or scratched by a wild animal, call animal control immediately. Do not attempt to capture the attacking animal yourself. ANY DOMESTIC ANIMAL THAT IS BITTEN BY, DIRECTLY EXPOSED BY PHYSICAL CONTACT WITH, OR DIRECTLY EXPOSED TO FRESH TISSUES OR A RABID ANIMAL IS REGARDED AS HAVING BEEN EXPOSED TO RABIES.
An animal should be considered not currently vaccinated if documentation of vaccination within the appropriate timeframe is not available or if the initial immunization was given less than 30 days previously.
Not currently vaccinated domestic animals considered to have been exposed to rabies must be humanely euthanized or placed in confinement for 90 days at a veterinary clinic or animal control facility.
Currently vaccinated domestic animals considered to have been exposed to rabies must be humanely euthanized or placed in confinement for 45 days.
What should I do if I am exposed to rabies? If you are bitten or scratched by a suspect rabid animal, or saliva from the animal enters an open wound, or becomes in contact with your nose, mouth, or eyes, wash the wound or contact area with soap and water, call your physician or the health department and get medical attention immediately.
If you have any additional questions regarding rabies control, please call your local animal control authority.