Rabies is a preventable viral disease in humans, dogs, cats and ferrets as well as some domestic livestock. It most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. All mammals are susceptible to rabies and it is nearly always fatal. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) each year occur in wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Raccoon rabies is present in the raccoon population in virtually every North Carolina county.
North Carolina law (G.S. 130A-185 (PDF)) requires that all owned dogs, cats, and ferrets must be vaccinated against rabies by four months of age and keep the animal's rabies vaccination status up-to-date throughout the animal's entire lifetime. This is the law, regardless of whether your pet lives inside or outside of your house. Learn more about local animal ordinances.
Keeping your pet up to date on its rabies vaccine serves two vital purposes: protection and identification.
Protection: The rabies vaccine is an important way to protect your animals. Wild animals are often found wandering in peoples' yards while searching for food, especially if the pet is fed outside. This can lead to wild animals attacking your pets and infecting them with the virus. Wild animals, such as bats, also find their way into homes, which can lead to the infection of strictly indoor pets.
Identification: Getting your pet vaccinated against rabies also helps identify your pets. Each time you vaccinate your pet against rabies, you receive a tag that should be worn by the animal at all times. This tag is proof that the animal has been vaccinated and has an owner, and the identification number on the tag can trace the pet back to its owner.
Find a veterinarian near you. Animals Services also hosts an annual rabies vaccine clinic where they offer the vaccine at a reduced cost.
Rabies is preventable. Here are some tips to keep you and your pets safe and healthy:
- Visit your veterinarian with your pet on a regular basis and keep rabies vaccinations up to date for all dogs, cats, and ferrets.
- Keep cats and ferrets indoors and keep your dogs under direct supervision.
- Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or vaccinated regularly.
- Do NOT leave food or uncovered garbage outside.
- Leave all wildlife alone. Do not feed them. View the hazards of feeding wildlife (PDF).
- Call Animal Protective Services at 910-253-1738 or email Animal Protective Services to remove all stray animals from your neighborhood since these animals may be unvaccinated or ill.
- Never approach or attempt to handle any friendly, injured, or sick wild animals.
- Never approach or attempt to handle any injured or sick domestic animals.
- Report strange-acting animals to Animal Services.
- Never attempt to pet animals you do not know.
- Never handle dead animals, if you come in contact with a dead animal, thoroughly wash contacted areas and consult your physician.
- Do not release any animal in a trap or cage.
Additional Information & Resources
Remember: You do not have to be bitten to contract the virus.
The virus is shed through saliva. If some of an infected animal's saliva gets on a cut or scratch or into mucous membranes such as the nose or eyes, you could become infected.
All warm-blooded animals can transmit the virus, signs and symptoms of the virus are not seen until the virus reaches the brain. Rabies is fatal once the virus reaches the brain, therefore, early treatment is very important.
A rabid animal does not typically "foam at the mouth" as often assumed, but it may tend to drool. There are several strains of the virus AIW with at least two manifestations of Rabies: "Dumb" ( Paralytic ) and "Furious" ( Mad ). Animals can exhibit the symptoms of both forms as the disease progresses.
Be Aware of the Following Signs
- Animals may display unusual behavior, such as nocturnal animal may wander around in the daylight, or they may exhibit a marked personality change.
- An animal may be lethargic and poorly coordinated.
- An animal may refuse food, water, or act as if something is lodged in the throat.
- An animal may be hypersensitive to light or noise, or become overexcited or aggressive. This is the "biting" stage.
- An animal may become comatose, then die.
- Infant mammals can be born harboring the rabies virus.
If you have made contact with a wild or domestic animal and feel it might be rabid, follow these recommendations:
- Remain calm.
- Immediately wash all wounds and exposed areas with soap and running water for 15 minutes and flush with alcohol.
- Contact Animal Services. Report the episode, giving a full description of the animal, including all markings, and describe the animal's behavior prior to the attack. Brunswick County Animal Protective Services can be reached at 910-253-1738.
- Call your county's local health department communicable disease nurse to report the bite and to discuss the details of your exposure (animal species and behavior, circumstances, etc.) to determine if you need to contact a doctor about rabies risk assessment and possible treatment to prevent rabies. Brunswick County Health Services can be reached at 910-253-2250.
- Capture and isolate the animal if possible, but take no risks. Contact Animal Services to capture the animal if you are unable to do so safely. Domestic pets (dogs, cats, ferrets), livestock, and horses need to be held and observed for 10 or 15 days for signs of illness, depending on the species. Wild animals and hybrids (wolf hybrids, etc.) must be submitted for rabies testing.
- If the animal is someone's pet, get the owner's name and address and provide them to the Animal Services officer. Any mammal can transmit rabies. Depending on the species and circumstances, the animal that bit you must be reported to Animal Services, evaluated for rabies vaccination status, and may be tested for rabies.
- Keep everyone away from the animal, including household pets.
- If the animal must be shot, do not shoot it in the head (the brain is the area tested for the virus).
There is no cure for rabies. However, there are post-exposure preventative measures. Seek advice from your physician and Animal Services.