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Dog Rabies: Questions and Answers

By: Angell Memorial Animal Hospital

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Q. What should I do if my pet comes into contact with a potentially rabid animal?

A. Always try to identify the animal your pet had contact with before it runs off; observe its behavior and appearance and, if it is a domestic animal, look for the presence of a collar and I.D. tags.

For your own protection, wear rubber gloves when handling any pet that may have come in contact with a rabid animal. Until it dries (usually in a couple of hours), a rabid animal's salvia on your pet's fur can spread rabies to you and other pets through contact with your eyes, nose and mouth or through an open cut or wound in your skin.

Contact your local animal control officer, veterinarian or police department immediately to report the incident and ask for assistance in removing the suspect animal if it is dead or still present in the area. Your local officials may want to have it tested for rabies.

Wash your pet's wounds thoroughly with warm soapy water for ten minutes with gloved hands, then call your veterinarian or emergency animal hospital immediately. Any animal bite, regardless of whether the attacking animal is suspected of having rabies, is an emergency situation requiring immediate veterinary attention. It is essential to see a veterinarian even if your pet has no apparent wounds.

Q. What if my child is bitten or otherwise comes into contact with a potentially rabid animal?

A. The Department of Public Health recommends that you wash any wounds thoroughly with warm soapy water for ten minutes, then call your local pediatrician or go to your local emergency room immediately. Obtain as much information as possible about the suspect animal. If it was a neighbor's pet, ask the pet owner when the animal received his last rabies vaccination. Then contact your local animal control officer or police department immediately to report the incident and, if the animal is not someone's pet, ask for assistance in capturing it. It may need to be tested for rabies.

If the animal tests positive for rabies, your doctor will want to administer a post-exposure series of several shots immediately to prevent the disease from developing. These are safe, effective and no more painful than other vaccinations.

Q. What if my pet bites or scratches someone?

A. A dog or cat that bites a person or another pet must be quarantined for ten days – even if it is up to date on its rabies shots. Your local officials will monitor and enforce this regulation. If the animal has rabies, it will show signs of the disease in that time period. If signs of rabies develop, the animal will be euthanized and tested to confirm the diagnosis.

Q. What do I do if I see a sick raccoon, skunk or fox wobbling around in my backyard?

A. Don't attempt to kill the animal or handle it yourself. Contact your local animal control officer, veterinarian, wildlife rehabilitation center or police department for information and assistance.

Q. It's a sunny day and there is a raccoon, skunk or fox in my yard. Does that mean the animal is rabid?

A. Not necessarily. Although these animals are usually nocturnal, even healthy ones may come out during the day. If the animal doesn't appear sick, leave it alone and keep your children and pets indoors until it goes away.

Q. There's a bat in my house. What do I do?

A. If the bat has not come into contact with a person or pet, close all doors to the rest of the house and open a window to the outside. The bat will eventually fly out. If the bat has bitten or scratched a person or a pet, try to capture it by throwing a thick towel over it. Ease it into a large can, jar, or box and then cover it. Wash any bite or scratch wounds thoroughly in warm, soapy water for ten minutes, then call your physician, veterinarian, emergency room or emergency animal hospital immediately. Call your local health officer or animal control agency for information on submitting the bat for testing.

Q. Where can I get more information about rabies?

A. You can call your local doctor, veterinarian, animal control officer, or board of health. Also, read about Rabies.

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