What You Should Know About Rabies


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.


This information has been prepared as a service by the American Veterinary Medical Association.


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