How can you prevent rabies in animals?
There are several things you can do to protect your pet from rabies:
First, visit your veterinarian with your pet on a regular basis and keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all cats, ferrets, and dogs.
Second, maintain control of your pets by keeping cats and ferrets indoors and keeping dogs under direct supervision.
Third, spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or vaccinated regularly.
Finally, call animal control to remove all stray animals from your neighborhood since these animals may be unvaccinated or ill.
The importance of vaccinating your pet
While wildlife are more likely to be rabid than are domestic animals in the United States, people have much more contact with domestic animals than with wildlife. Your pets and other domestic animals can be infected when they are bitten by rabid wild animals, and this type of “spillover” increases the risk to people.
Keeping your pets up to date on their rabies vaccination will prevent them from acquiring the disease from wildlife, and thereby prevent possible transmission to your family or other people.
How can you prevent rabies in people?
Understanding your rabies risk and knowing what to do after contact with animals can save lives. Any mammal can get rabies, but the most commonly affected animals in the United States are raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes — so the best way to avoid rabies in the U.S. is to stay away from wildlife. Leave all wildlife alone, including injured animals. If you find an injured animal, don’t touch it; contact local authorities for assistance.
Rabies in dogs is still common in many countries outside the United States, so find out if rabies is present in dogs or wildlife at your destination before international travel.
Because pets can get rabies from wildlife and then could spread it to humans, preventing rabies in pets is also an important step in preventing human rabies cases.
If you do come into contact with a rabid animal, rabies in humans is 100% preventable through prompt appropriate medical care. If you are bitten, scratched, or unsure, talk to a healthcare provider about whether you need PEP.
When should I seek medical attention?
If you’ve been in contact with any wildlife or unfamiliar animals, particularly if you’ve been bitten or scratched, you should talk with a healthcare or public health professional to determine your risk for rabies or other illnesses. Wash any wounds immediately with soap and water and then plan to see a healthcare provider. (It’s important to know that, unlike most other animals that carry rabies, many types of bats have very small teeth which may leave marks that disappear quickly. If you are unsure, seek medical advice to be safe.)
Remember that rabies is a medical urgency but not an emergency. Decisions should not be delayed.
See your doctor for attention for any trauma due to an animal attack before considering the need for rabies vaccination. After any wounds have been addressed, your doctor – possibly in consultation with your state or local health department – will help you decide if you need treatment known as rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP). Decisions to start PEP will be based on your type of exposure, the animal you were exposed to, whether the animal is available for testing, and laboratory and surveillance information for the geographic area where the exposure occurred.
In the United States, PEP consists of a regimen of one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period. Rabies immune globulin and the first dose of rabies vaccine should be given by your health care provider as soon as possible after exposure. Current vaccines are relatively painless and are given in your arm like a flu or tetanus vaccine; rabies vaccines are not given in the stomach.