Rabies: What You Should Know

By Ashley Watson

rabies-2While rabies continues to be a health threat to humans and pets, the Humane Society reports that this disease is much less of a problem than it has been in the past. In the last 10 years, only 28 people in the United States have died from contracting rabies. However, this is only a small reduction in rabies-related deaths since vaccinations became more widespread. The Humane Society warns that you should still take precautions.

The warmer weather in the summer will inevitably draw your pets outside more, which means they are more likely to come into contact with wild potentially rabid animals. It’s important to understand the basics about rabies and how you can prevent your pet from getting infected and spreading the disease. Here are some basic facts taken from the Humane Society and the U.S. Department of Health that help identify and prevent rabies.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is an infectious disease that is transmitted through saliva, animal bites, and open wounds. This disease affects the central nervous system causing rabid animals to present abnormal behavior, such as circling or disorientation, due to the effects on the brain and central nervous system. Rabies can only be spread through saliva, and it cannot be transmitted through other bodily fluids, such as blood or urine. This virus does not live long after exposure to open air and, therefore, is not an airborne disease.

There are a few animals that are most known to carry rabies:

  • Raccoons
  • Skunks
  • Bats
  • Foxes
  • Coyotes (more rare in this species than others)

rabiesRodents, rabbits, and hares rarely get rabies, and there have been no known cases of rabies in humans contracted through these animals in the U.S. Opossums are extremely resistant to the disease, and it’s important to note that drooling and swaying is a defense mechanism, so most likely they feel threatened if they are behaving strangely. Still, it’s important to know the signs of an animal infected with the disease so that you know when to take action.

Signs and Symptoms

Animals infected with rabies will behave differently depending on the animal. Some animals will have the classic drooling or foaming at the mouth symptoms and may appear to be agitated. Other animals may appear to be extremely tame and afraid of humans.

Other signs include:

  • Appears to be drunk or wobbly
  • Circling or drooling
  • Appears to be partially paralyzed,
  • Appears disorientated, or self-mutilating.

Keep in mind that these signs are also symptoms of other diseases, and it’s difficult to determine with behavior alone. This is why it is important to know the proper precautions.


rabiesRabies can only be contracted through a bite, scratch, or coming into contact with the saliva or open wound of a rabid animal. According to the Humane Society, the infection “travels from the brain to the salivary glands during the final stage of the disease—this is when an animal can spread the disease, most commonly through a bite.”

This means that rabies cannot go through unbroken skin, but if you suspect that your pet has been in a fight with a potentially rabid animal, wear gloves while handling your pet and call wildlife control and your vet immediately.


Here are other basic precautions when dealing with potentially rabid animals:

  • Don’t approach or handle the animal
  • Call wildlife control if you see a potentially rabid animal
  • If bitten, get help immediately – timely treatment is essential
  • Wear gloves and scrub wound immediately with antiseptic soap and water
  • Call your doctor, vet, or go to the emergency room
  • Vaccinate all pets (including indoor cats)

Is your pet up to date with vaccinations? Call your vet today to ask about rabies vaccinations and help stop the spread of this disease!