Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous
system. The virus is secreted in saliva and is usually transmitted to
people and animals by a bite from an infected animal. Less commonly,
rabies can be transmitted when saliva from a rabid animal comes in
contact with an open cut on the skin or the eyes, nose, or mouth of a
person or animal. Once the outward signs of the disease appear, rabies
is nearly always fatal.
Only mammals can get rabies;
birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians do
not. Most cases of rabies occur in wild animals - mainly skunks,
raccoons, bats, and foxes. In recent years, cats have become the most
common domestic animal infected with rabies. This is because many cat
owners do not vaccinate their cats before the cats are exposed to rabid
wildlife outdoors. Rabies also occurs in dogs and cattle in significant
numbers and, while not as common, has been diagnosed in horses, goats,
sheep, swine and ferrets.
Improved vaccination programs and
control of stray animals have been
effective in preventing rabies in most pets. Approved rabies vaccines
are available for cats, dogs, ferrets, horses, cattle and sheep.
Licensed oral vaccines have been used for mass immunization of wildlife.