Exposed To Rabies

What if My Dog or Cat Is Exposed To or Bitten By a Rabid Animal?


By Dr. Lorie Huston at PHCG


In the last post, I wrote about how often a pet needs to be vaccinated against rabies. I received a few questions afterward about what happens when your dog or cat is exposed to or is bitten by a rabid animal. So, I promised I would write another post covering that subject.

Periodically, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV) publishes a Compendium of Ani Rabies Prevention and Control. This document provides guidance for rabies vaccination schedules as well as recommended procedures in the event of a known or suspected exposure to rabies for people and animals both. It is provided to help create standardization between locations.

This is a summary of the recommendations of the Compendium for dealing with rabies exposures for pets. However, individual localities may also have local laws and regulations that differ from the Compendium. Local public health officials typically have the final word in matters that deal with rabies and rabies exposures.

What Constitutes Rabies Exposure? How Do I Know if My Pet Has Been Exposed?

The rabies virus can be spread through bites wounds, open skin wounds and contact with mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, etc.) The virus is found in the saliva and contact with infected saliva is the most common means of exposure. However, the virus can also be found in other body tissues as well (i.e. the brain and nervous system of an infected pet) and contact with these tissues may also constitute exposure. Any questions about whether your pet has been exposed to rabies should be directed to the appropriate public health official in your community.

What If a Vaccinated Dog or Cat Is Exposed to an Animal with Rabies?

According to the Compendium, “Dogs, cats, and ferrets that are currently vaccinated should be revaccinated immediately, kept under the owner’s control, and observed for 45 days.” It goes on to say that the observation period is based on several factors, such as the potential for an overwhelming challenge, incomplete vaccine efficiency, variations between animals and more. Please see the document for more information.

What if My Dog or Cat Is Not Vaccinated and Is Exposed to Rabies?

If an unvaccinated pet is exposed to rabies, the recommendation is that the pet be destroyed immediately.

A six month isolation period is an alternative for those pets whose owners refuse to euthanize. The isolation is very strict, with no direct contact with people or other animals allowed. The pet must be vaccinated against rabies on entry and again within 28 days of release.

The Compendium does not specify where the isolation must take place. However, in many communities, isolation in the local pound or shelter will be required. Some communities may allow isolation in a boarding facility but many boarding facilities are unwilling to provide these types of services.

What if My Exposed Pet Is Overdue for His Rabies Vaccine?

In this situation, each case is judged on an individual basis. Factors to be considered include “severity of exposure, time elapsed since last vaccination, number of previous vaccinations, current health status, and local rabies epidemiology to determine need for euthanasia or immediate revaccination and observation/isolation.” These decisions are not made by the pet owner. Public health officials will determine what will happen to your pet in this situation.

This article is posted with the permission of the Pet Health Care Gazette