Frequently Asked Questions
Rabies (ray-beez), 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.
What should I do if I am bitten by an animal?
• Clean the wound immediately with soap and water.
• Seek prompt medical attention from a physician or hospital emergency department.
• Report the bite to the local health department.
If you are bitten by a wild animal:
• Try to contain the animal while taking care to prevent additional bites and exposure to saliva. Contact the animal control officer or local police for assistance. In the event the animal is euthanized (put to sleep), care should be taken to avoid damage to the brain, which should be submitted to the state rabies laboratory for testing.
• Human treatment to prevent rabies may be started immediately or delayed until the testing results are known.
• If the animal is not available for testing, the decision to start human treatment will be made by the bite victim and his/her physician based on recommendations by the local health department.
If you are bitten by a dog, cat, or other domestic animal:
• Obtain information about the pet including owner’s name, phone, address, description of the animal, and its vaccination status.
• Biting animals should be ordered observed for 10 days by the local health department to ensure that they are free of rabies. If showing signs of rabies, the animal should be euthanized immediately and tested. If the animal dies during the 10 day observation period, it must be submitted for testing.
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
• 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
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.
What about bats?
• Less than 1% of bats carry rabies and human attacks by bats are extremely rare.
• Unusual behavior, such as a bat fluttering on the floor, or a bat flying at midday, may be signs of
rabies and is reason for particular care to avoid the bat.
• Whenever a bat is found in a home or business, it should be contained in a room until removal by
the animal control officer.
• Contact your veterinarian if your pet has been bitten by a bat.
Where can I get more information on rabies?
• Your health care provider
• Your local health department
This informa on is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a health care professional.
Adapted from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Revised 10/18