Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus. The virus is found in the saliva of a rabid animal and is transmitted by a bite, or possibly by saliva contamination of an open cut or the eyes. Left untreated, rabies attacks the nervous system and causes death.
What animals get rabies?
Only mammals, including people, can get rabies. Rabies occurs most often in wildlife, particularly raccoons, bats, skunks, groundhogs, and foxes. These animals represent 95% of the cases in the United States. In New Jersey (NJ), cats account for the vast majority of domestic animal rabies cases. Dogs, other domestic pets and livestock can also become infected so take measures to keep wild animals from entering houses, barns and garages. Small rodents such as rats, mice, chipmunks, and squirrels are rarely infected. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture has authority over livestock animals that may be
infected or exposed to rabies.
Rabid animals are usually either vicious and aggressive, or may appear to be drunk and have trouble walking. Some animals may be rabid even though they appear to be normal. People should stay away from all wild and stray animals which are aggressive or appear to be sick.
How can I protect my pets?
Vaccination and animal control programs have helped to prevent rabies in most pets. It is important to keep your dog or cat up-to-date on rabies vaccinations. Cats and dogs that spend time outdoors may have more risk of coming into contact with a rabid wild animal, but it is important to also vaccinate pets that stay indoors. In the United States, there have been more cases of rabies in cats than in dogs in recent years. Therefore, rabies vaccination is especially important for cats. See your veterinarian for more information on rabies vaccination or take your pets to state/municipal sponsored rabies clinics.
What do I do if my pet has bitten someone?
Urge the victim to seek medical care immediately.
• Check with your veterinarian to see if your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date.
• Report the bite to your local health department.
• Report any unusual illness or behavior from your pet to the local health department and
• Don’t let your pet free-roam and don’t give your pet away. The animal must be available for observation.
• After the recommended observation period, have your pet vaccinated for rabies if it is overdue.
What should I do if my pet has been bitten by a potentially rabid animal?
Call your veterinarian immediately.
• Even if your pet is currently vaccinated against rabies, it will need to be vaccinated again.
• Unvaccinated pets exposed to a rabid animal may need to be vaccinated and quarantined for four months.
How can rabies be prevented?
Vaccinate your pets against rabies and keep vaccinations up-to-date.
• Do not feed or touch wild animals.
• Avoid contact with strays or pets other than your own.
• Report unusual behavior in stray or wild animals to municipal animal control.
• Report all animal bites immediately to your local health department.