Rabies: Signs, symptoms and how to protect pets

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Rabies can be transmitted to pets and other animals by bites or through existing wounds.

How animals get rabies

The viral disease, which affects the central nervous system, is passed through saliva of an affected animal.

When an animal becomes infected with rabies, the time it takes for the symptoms to show can vary. According to American Humane, it typically takes three to eight weeks, but in some rare cases the signs are visible in as little as nine days or not until several years later.

The further the wound entrance is from the brain, the longer it will take for signs of the disease to show, American Humane said.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an animal bitten or scratched by a wild, carnivorous mammal or a bat that is not available for testing should be regarded as being exposed to rabies.

The most common carriers of rabies in the U.S. include raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes, according to American Humane, while small mammals such as squirrels, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rabbits and hares are almost never found to carry rabies, according to the CDC.

According to American Humane, it’s not possible to test a live animal for rabies.

Signs and symptoms

According to Michigan.gov, rabies typically take one of two forms. Animals with furious rabies tend to have an increase in activity characterized by agitation. The animal may then become restless and vicious.

The animal may have a lack of coordination and tremors, followed by convulsions, paralysis, and mental and physical exhaustion.

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Animals with dumb rabies become paralyzed and die shortly after, according to Michigan.gov.

Other signs of rabies include anxiety, increased friendliness, hypersensitivity to light and sound, and seizures, according to American Humane.

What to do if your pet has been bitten

If an unvaccinated cat, dog or ferret is exposed to a rabid animal, it should be euthanized immediately, according to the CDC. If it isn’t euthanized, it needs to be isolated for six months and should receive a vaccination one month before its release.

Pets that are vaccinated are observed for 45 days if bitten.

If your pet is bitten by another domestic animal, ask the animal’s owner for proof of a rabies vaccination and contact your veterinarian. American Humane suggests reporting the incident to animal control if the animal’s vaccination was not up-to-date so the animal can be properly quarantined.

If your pet is bitten by a wild animal or comes in contact with a wild animal but doesn’t have a visible wound, contact your veterinarian.


Keep your pet’s rabies vaccination up-to-date.

Puppies and kittens should receive their first vaccination at 12 weeks, then again in a year, according to American Humane. The pet then generally should receive the vaccine every three years.