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World Rabies Day: 7 Preventative Tips to Keep Your Fur-babies Safe from Rabies


Written by Emily Bayne

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 09/24/2021, edited: 10/05/2023


September 28th is World Rabies Day, a day dedicated to the global eradication of the deadly disease. Though rabies is under control in much of the U.S., nearly 60,000 people die of rabies each year worldwide.

In honor of World Rabies Day, we’re bringing you 7 preventative tips to keep your fur-babies safe from this lethal and highly contagious disease. But first, let’s take a look at some facts about rabies as well as the symptoms.

Facts about rabies

  • Rabies has been confirmed on every continent except Antarctica. 

  • All mammals are susceptible to rabies.

  • Rabies targets the central nervous system, causing inflammation of the brain and eventually leading to paralysis and respiratory failure.

  • According to the World Health Organization, 99% of people infected with rabies became infected via dog bites.

  • Infected people usually don’t start showing signs of a rabies infection until 2 to 8 weeks post-exposure. Still, there have been rare cases where the incubation period lasted years before the infected person began showing symptoms.

  • Nearly half of all people bitten by infected animals are children. 

  • A rabid animal isn’t always aggressive; they may be unusually friendly. Rabid wild animals may show no fear and might even let you pet them.

  • Rabies infection often causes animals to develop a fear of water due to an inability to swallow.

What are the signs of rabies?

The first step to protecting your fur-babies from rabies is being able to spot the symptoms in other animals. Rabies has many unusual symptoms, including:

7 preventative tips to keep pets safe from rabies

Let's discuss some simple ways you can protect your fur-babies from rabies.

Know what to do if you suspect an animal has rabies

It’s crucial that you know how to handle an encounter with a potentially rabid animal. If you come across a possibly rabid animal, the first thing you should do is slowly walk away and get to safety. Do not attempt to capture or scare the animal away since this may incite an attack. Once you’re in a safe location, call animal control immediately.

Have your pets vaccinated

The most effective means for preventing rabies in your pets is to have them vaccinated. What’s more, depending on your state, you could be required by law to do so.

Puppies may get their rabies vaccine as early as 3 months of age or as late as 6 months, depending on the type of vaccine they receive. On the other hand, felines may be as young as 8 to 12 weeks for their first rabies shot.

Unfortunately, the rabies vaccine isn’t a one-and-done vaccine — your pet will need regular booster shots too. Most vets suggest yearly rabies booster shots for dogs and cats; however, some vaccinations require boosters once every 3 years.

Related: Understanding Dog Vaccines and Vaccination Schedules

Don’t let Fido outside unsupervised

It only takes a second for a dog to come in contact with a wild animal who could potentially have rabies. This is why it’s so important not to let your pets outside without direct supervision — especially dogs or cats with high prey drive.

Pets with a high prey drive may instigate scuffles with wild animals for the thrill of it and get bitten or scratched in the process. If your pet has a high prey drive or poor recall skills, limiting outside time to on-leash activities may be necessary. 

Make your yard less attractive to wild animals

Here are a few ways you can make your yard less tempting for wild animals:

  • Never leave food out in your yard. If you feed your pets outdoors, make sure you pick up their bowls after they finish eating.  

  • Motion-activated sprinklers are another excellent defense against wild animals, particularly against those with rabies since rabies is often accompanied by a fear of water. 

  • Remove debris and any piles of discarded materials in your yard since these often serve as hiding spots for wild animals.

  • Replace your standard trash can with a locking or animal-proof can. 

  • Invest in a fence. Fences are a great deterrent for larger animals like deer.  

  • Use animal-repelling pellets around your property line. 

Refrain from letting your pet play with unfamiliar animals

Don’t let your pets play with unfamiliar animals, whether domesticated or otherwise, even if the animal appears to be healthy. It’s not a good idea to take in wild animals either since there's no way to know if the animal is carrying rabies without a post-mortem examination. If you come across an injured or abandoned wild animal, take it to a wildlife rescue rather than fostering it in your home.

Know what constitutes rabies exposure

Rabies is spread primarily via saliva from infected animals, but transmission can occur even if there is no bite. Transmission of rabies through means other than a bite is called non-bite exposure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “The contamination of open wounds, abrasions, mucous membranes, or theoretically, scratches (potentially contaminated with infectious material from a rabid animal) constitutes a non-bite exposure.”

Infection from non-bite exposure is rare, but it is possible. If you or your pet has potentially been exposed, seek immediate care. Even though pets that are up-to-date on their shots cannot catch rabies, there's still a risk of bacterial infection due to bites and scratches from animals.

Know which animals are most at risk

Bats, foxes, skunks, and raccoons carry and transmit rabies, so it’s essential to keep your pets away from these at-risk animals. Keep up with your local news and check your state’s department of health control website for statistics and information about local cases of rabid animals.

What to do if a potentially rabid animal bites your pet

  1. Immediately wash the wound well with antibacterial soap and warm water. Time is of the essence.

  2. Apply alcohol or a wound disinfectant containing iodine to the bite.

  3. Take your pet to a veterinarian.

  4. After treatment, the vet may ask you to quarantine your pet if they are unvaccinated. 

  5. Report the aggressive animal to the health department.

Rabies is always fatal in animals, so it’s important that we pet parents take the necessary precautions to protect our fur-babies against this lethal disease. Keeping your pet up-to-date with their rabies vaccines is the only way to ensure their protection from rabies. Make sure you’re also reporting animals that are behaving oddly in your area to the proper authorities. If everyone does their part, maybe one day rabies will be a thing of the past.

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