Summer Brings Threat for Pets and People - Rabies

There have been 2 rabid animal attacks in the past 3 days around SouthCoast Massachusetts, so it's important to recognize the behavior of a rabid animal and act appropriately to protect yourself and your pets from being bit.

It's important to distinguish between normal animal behavior and possible rabies-related activity. For instance, in my local area, one of the rabid animals was a woodchuck. It is completely normal for woodchucks to be out during the day, so simply seeing a woodchuck scurry across the road does not mean it is rabid. It would also be fairly normal to see a racoon rummaging through garbage.

kitten rabiesWhat is not normal though, is if an animal comes at you in a forceful manner. Wild animals are supposed to at least be timid of humans, if not afraid, so if a wild animal starts to go after you, it's time to worry.

Rabies virus causes an acute encephalitis in all warm-blooded animals (so no birds, snakes or fish!) and the outcome is almost always fatal. Acute encephalitis is an inflammatory condition of the central nervous system. The first symptoms of rabies may be nonspecific and include things like lethargy, fever or vomiting. Symptoms progress in a matter of days to include cerebral dysfunction, cranial nerve dysfunction, ataxia (lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements), weakness, paralysis, seizures, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, abnormal behavior, aggression, and/or self-mutilation.

Rabid animal behavior can include running in circles or other random movements, making strange noises, biting the air and chasing people and animals.

In the U.S., 93 out of 100 reported cases of rabies involve wild animals. Raccoons are the most common wild animal to become infected.

Small mammals such as squirrels, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks and rabbits are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the U.S.

It is very important to keep your pets rabies vaccinations up-to-date. Massachusetts state law requires that all dogs, cats and ferrets be vaccinated against rabies by the time they are 6-months old. The second round of rabies shot is administered 9-12 months after the initial vaccine, and newer vaccines are good for 3-years. Your veterinarian will provide you with a rabies vaccine schedule to make sure any boosters are taken care of and that the vaccine remains current.

If you adopt or purchase an animal and were not provided with a rabies certificate, bring it to your veterinarian within 30-days to have it vaccinated. This will not harm the animal, even if they did receive the vaccine before.

The real danger is that unvaccinated dogs, cats, and ferrets exposed to a rabid animal are suggested to be euthanized immediately. If the owner is unwilling to have this done, the animal needs to be placed in strict isolation for 6 months and vaccinated 1 month before being released.

Animals with expired vaccinations are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Dogs and cats that are bit but are currently vaccinated are generally kept under observation for 45 days.

Here is a map of the most common suspects in rabies cases according to region:


map of rabies

Make sure your beloved pet stays up-to-date with their rabies vaccine and keep them away from any suspicious wild animals. Should you see a wild animal acting strangly, call your local animal control or the non-emergency number to your local police department to have them come out and inspect the animal.