Education Center

RABIES CONTROL: protect your pet and yourself

Find out how to:

• Understand Rabies

• Protect yourself and your pet

• Keep your neighborhood safe

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a disease caused by a virus. Once introduced into the body of a warm blooded animal (including humans), the virus travels along the nerves to the spinal cord and brain, causing convulsions, paralysis and death. Once symptoms occur the disease is always FATAL.

How Is the Rabies Virus Transmitted?
Primarily, the rabies virus is present in the saliva of an infected animal and is transmitted whenever the virus comes in contact with exposed nerves. This usually involves a scratch or bite wound or by exposure of fresh cuts to the saliva of an infected animal. Immediate first aid may prevent the virus from entering the body.

Who Can Contract Rabies?
Any warm blooded animal can become infected by the rabies virus. RACCOONS, SKUNKS, FOXES and BATS are HIGH RISK species. Domestic livestock, dogs and cats may be exposed to the virus by these and other species of wildlife. Humans may be exposed to the virus by any of the above sources.

Why must Pets Be Vaccinated Against Rabies?
VACCINATIONS ARE REQUIRED BY STATE LAW. Vaccinating your dog or cat against rabies provides a measure of immunity against the disease and lessens the chance that it will develop rabies if exposed to the virus. Also, a vaccinated domestic pet population provides a buffer zone between wildlife rabies and humans.

What Are the Symptoms of Rabies?

The INCUBATION period after the virus enters the body is usually one to eight weeks but may be as long as one year or more. The time it takes for symptoms to occur depends on the location and severity of the exposure.

In ANIMALS, there is typically a marked change in normal behavior. Dumb rabies, the most common form, is characterized by aimless wandering, lethargy, lack of coordination, weakness in the hind limbs, and loss of awareness. Furious rabies, the better known form, is noted for vicious attacks on anything that moves and self-mutilation. Both forms always end in convulsions, coma and death. “Foaming at the mouth” occurs when the disease has paralyzed the throat muscles and the animal becomes unable to swallow.

HUMANS exposed to the rabies virus should consult their physician and the Health Department immediately for advice on post exposure treatment. Once symptoms are manifest, there is no treatment.

ONLY A LABORATORY TEST OF THE SUSPECTED ANIMAL’S BRAIN TISSUE CAN CONFIRM THE PRESENCE OF RABIES.

What If a Dog, Cat or Other Domestic Animal Is Exposed to Rabies?

Due to the variable incubation period (one week to a year or more), the animal MAY BECOME INFECTIOUS and present a danger of further transmission of the virus YET STILL APPEAR TO BE IN GOOD HEALTH. Therefore, the first recommendation is immediate euthanasia of the animal which has been exposed to the virus.

The second option is to place the animal in strict quarantine for a period of six (6) months at the owner’s expense. If the dog or cat had a current rabies vaccination at the time of the exposure, the quarantine period may be reduced to three (3) months.

What About People?

Are You at Risk If Bitten by an Animal? Studies have shown that if a DOG or CAT is transmitting the virus at the time of a bite, it will show definite symptoms or be dead within ten (10) days. Therefore, a biting DOG or CAT may be quarantined for ten days to observe for symptoms of rabies.

There are established quarantine period for ONLY dogs, cats, and ferrets. ALL OTHER BITING ANIMALS (including dog or cat hybrids) must be humanely killed and sent to the State Laboratory to be tested for rabies.

If the suspect animal is not available for quarantine or testing, post exposure rabies treatment may be recommended. In determining when to begin treatment, the history of rabies in the area, the species of the animal, circumstances of the exposure and the severity and location of the bite wounds would be considered.
A bite from a rabbit, squirrel, rat, chipmunk, or mouse rarely calls for post exposure rabies treatment. Since 1977, Georgia has not even accepted these animals for testing UNLESS THE BITE WAS UNPROVOKED. Similarly, the opossum is highly resistant to infection by the rabies virus and constitutes little, if any, risk.

What Is Post Exposure Rabies Treatment?

The treatment consists of a series of five vaccinations and one dose of anti-bodies given in the arms and buttocks. The vaccine is available to your doctor through the Health Department and the cost is borne by the person being treated.

What Can I Do to Protect Myself, My Family and My Pets from Rabies?

The key to control and prevention of rabies in a community is RESPONSIBLE PET OWNERSHIP:

All dogs and cats are required by law to be vaccinated against rabies at the age of three months and vaccinations must be kept current for the life of the animal.
Most counties require by law that dogs should be physically confined to the owner’s property or on a leash. There may be no leash law for cats in your county, but responsible cat owners will voluntarily protect their pet from this and other dangers by restricting the movements of their pet. Roaming pets are more likely to be exposed to rabies without the owner’s knowledge.

Make sure your dog or cat wears its animal license/rabies tag at all times so that the rabies vaccination status and owner can be readily established.

Do not keep wild animals as pets. Even a skunk or raccoon born in captivity can be a rabies carrier. Further, the keeping of wild animals is often illegal without the proper permits.

Do not approach or handle any wild animal. Almost any animal will attack if cornered or threatened. Avoid wild animals even if they appear friendly. If you find an animal that may be sick or injured, call Animal Control.

Make your house and yard unattractive to wild animals. Feed pets inside and remove uneaten food promptly; keep trash cans tightly closed; cap chimneys; and seal off any openings in attics, under porches, in basements or outbuildings.

Contact Animal Control if you have an over abundance of wildlife in your yard. Humane live traps are usually available on a refundable deposit basis for the removal of such animals. You may also check the telephone directory for businesses which will provide this service for a fee. Some hardware stores and garden shops have humane live traps for sale.

Teach children not to approach strange dogs, cats or other animals and to report any bite, scratch or contact with any animal.

REPORT to Animal Control any loose dog or any animal behaving in an abnormal manner.

If your dog, cat or other domestic animal has been bitten or attacked by a raccoon or other wild animal, REPORT the incident to Animal Control so that the circumstances can be evaluated and appropriate action taken.

REPORT ALL ANIMAL BITES TO ANIMAL CONTROL. In the event of an animal bite or scratch (by the animal’s teeth), immediately cleanse the contact area with soap and running water. In addition to notifying Animal Control, call your doctor or emergency room and the local Health Department.

Things To Remember …

RABIES is caused by a virus and is FATAL.

Rabies is transmitted by contact with the saliva of an infected animal – usually through a scratch or bite wound.

Immediate cleansing of the bite wounds with soap and running water or just running water MAY prevent the virus from entering the body.

High risk species include FOXES, SKUNKS, RACCOONS, AND BATS.

Make your house and yard unattractive to these animals.

REPORT any contact between a high risk species and a domestic animal to Animal Control.

REPORT all animal bites. Get a good description of the biting animal and where it may be found. If the animal can not be located, post exposure treatment may be recommended by the Health Department.

Only biting DOGS, CATS, and FERRETS can be quarantined to observe for symptoms of rabies. All OTHER BITING ANIMALS (including dog or cat hybrids) must be humanely killed and tested.

Be sure to maintain a current rabies vaccination on your pet. Comply with the leash law and other animal regulations in your county.

How Common Is Rabies in the North Georgia Area?

Counties in the north Georgia area experienced a dramatic increase in the number of cases of laboratory confirmed rabies beginning in 1990. Rabies has been found in all areas of north Georgia.

The majority of rabid animals have been FOXES, although rabies has also been found in raccoons, skunks, and bats.

Raccoons are usually found in the vicinity of creek banks, streams and other bodies of water. Persons living in these areas should be alert for any contact between domestic animals and wildlife or for unusual behavior in the wildlife population.

What Is The Best Thing To Do?

There is no substitute for education and responsible pet ownership. Regular vaccinations can protect your pet from many things. Being a responsible owner means checking your pet regularly for any signs of distress, illness, or injury and seeking guidance from your veterinarian when questions arise.

Keeping your pets indoors offers the best protection, but if your dog spends time outdoors unsupervised, visible fencing will not only keep your dog at home, it can protect your dog from other neighborhood animals. Outdoor cats would be more vulnerable as they are not as easily confined by a fence. The best protection for Kitty, in addition to vaccination, is to stay indoors.

Talk to your neighbors and ask questions about suspicious animals. Report anything unusual to your animal control facility. Share your knowledge with others and encourage them to help you keep your neighborhood safe for pets and children.

This information is part of the Atlanta Humane Society’s SmartHeart Educational Series.

The AHS depends on friends to provide funding for our services and programs of animal aid, support for individuals with animal related problems, and community animal issues.

The Atlanta Humane Society and Society For Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, Inc. is a private nonprofit organization for the purpose of preventing cruelty, relieving suffering, and providing humane treatment of animals. The Society’s mission is to eliminate causes of animal suffering with an emphasis on education and the human/animal bond.