Updated on March 7, 2018: Rabies is a deadly disease for both dogs and cats. Fortunately, rabies in humans is very treatable and rarely fatal. In fact, because of pet vaccinations, rabies education, and treatment options, 1-2 people die from rabies per year in the United States even though around 40,000 people contract it. But if you don’t receive early treatment after you contract rabies, fatality is almost inevitable.
How is rabies spread?
Rabies is caused by the rabies virus and spread through a bite or saliva from an infected animal. You can’t contract the virus by breathing it in or petting an animal. All warm-blooded mammals can carry the rabies virus but it’s most often found in raccoons, skunks and bats. You can also get rabies if the infected animal licks his claw and then scratches you with that wet claw.
Rabies is one of the deadliest dog diseases. You can read more about the most deadly diseases for dogs here.
What does a rabid animal look like?
Contrary to popular belief, rabid animals aren’t always snarling and foaming at the mouth, although that’s definitely an immediate red flag. Rabid animals can also appear disoriented, be biting or snapping at imaginary objects, or walking unsteadily. Nocturnal animals – like skunks or raccoons – prefer the nightlife so if they’re out during the day, there’s a good chance they have rabies.
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What do you do if you're attacked?
First, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and apply an antiseptic to clean it. Second, go to the doctor. Rabies bites are a very big deal. Like many other diseases, rabies symptoms aren’t obvious for weeks or months, so it’s important to go to the doctor immediately after the incident. If you wait too long, the virus will travel through the nervous system, spreading to your vital organs and brain. At that point, it’ll be too late for doctors to do anything.
What are the symptoms?
When humans contract rabies, they don’t always show symptoms for weeks or months because the virus is essentially hiding from the immune system. However, some bites will cause a twitching or tingling near the wound. In addition to wound irritation, some people also experience symptoms like headaches, fevers, insomnia or disorientation. The second you are bitten or attacked by an animal, go to the doctor to get treated, especially if you suspect it’s a rabid animal.
How is it treated?
Lots and lots of shots.
If you know the animal who bit you has rabies, you will receive a rabies immune globulin shot as soon as you get to the doctor. The shot will be given as close to the wound as possible to help prevent the rabies virus from infecting you.
If you don’t know if the animal who bit you has rabies, you will be given a series of vaccines (four shots over fourteen days!) to fight the possible infection.
How can I protect myself from contracting rabies?
Stay away from wild animals
Especially raccoons and bats. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that raccoons have rabies more than any other animal, but bats cause the most rabies in people, mainly because bat bites are small and people don’t always know they’ve been bitten. If you’re bit by a bat – no matter how small the bite – go to the doctor.
Vaccinate your pets
Not only will you keep yourself safe from contracting rabies from your pets, you’ll keep them safe from contracting rabies from wildlife. Since there is no rabies treatment for cats and dogs, it’s fatal once they contract it.
Pet insurance can often cover your pet's medical costs, which includes preventative measures. Learn more about pet insurance here.
Call animal control
If a nocturnal animal is out during the day or an animal is exhibiting any odd behavior or symptoms, notify your local animal control. Never handle wildlife yourself.
Although rabies is terrifying, it is treatable in humans. If you’re bitten by an animal, go to the doctor and receive the treatment you need. And keep yourself, your family, and your pets safe from contracting rabies by staying away from wildlife and reporting any odd animal behavior.
Getting your pet's health in order may be a good sign to get yours in order, too. Learn more about your health insurance options here.