Descriptions of rabies go back thousands of years as rabies has classically been one of the most feared infections of all time. It is caused by a bullet-shaped rhabdovirus that is relatively unstable in the environment; establishing infection requires direct contact with infected mucous membranes. In most cases, disease is transmitted via bite wound. Only mammals are susceptible to infection, and wildlife is the primary animal group where infection occurs. When wildlife comes into contact with humans or domestic animals, rabies becomes a public health problem. Despite vaccination being readily available, every year the U.S. reports hundreds of dog and cat deaths from rabies, not to mention several human deaths. Worldwide some 55,000 human deaths from rabies occur and rabies remains an important and nearly untreatable illness even now in the 21st century.
Rabies is nearly untreatable once symptoms begin despite all the resources of modern medicine and it is important to take its threat seriously. It is because of rabies that most municipalities have dog licensing requirements in order to ensure that the community’s dogs are vaccinated.
The most common wildlife species to spread rabies to domestic animals and humans in the Northern Hemisphere are the skunk, bat, raccoon, fox, and coyote. It should be noted in particular that wildlife, bats especially, are able to gain access to indoor areas and potentially infect pets and people.
MANY PEOPLE DO NOT REALIZE HOW FAST DEATH OCCURS FROM RABIES.
While it may take a long time for the virus to incubate, once even mild symptoms begin, death occurs within 10 days.
Course of the Disease
Virus in the infected animal’s saliva enters the victim’s tissues during the bite. The virus attaches to the local muscle cells for a couple of days before penetrating to local nerves and beginning its slow ascent to the brain. Once in nervous tissue, the virus is not accessible to the immune system and may safely proceed, although the journey is slow taking up to one year (average time between bite and detectable virus in the brain is 20 to 30 days). Virus ultimately reaches the brain and in two to three days more is evident in all body secretions including saliva. At this point, the disease becomes transmissible and symptoms begin.
IT CAN TAKE UP TO A YEAR FROM THE TIME OF THE INITIAL BITE BEFORE SYMPTOMS BEGIN TO SHOW. ONCE SYMPTOMS SHOW, TREATMENT IS NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE.
PRODROMAL STAGE (the first 1.5 days after symptoms have started)
A change in personality is noted. Friendly animals become shy, etc. The larynx begins to spasm and a voice change may be noted (especially true in rabid cattle). Most infected animals will actively lick or scratch the site of the original bite.
EXCITATIVE STAGE (Next 2-3 days)
Classically, this would be the “mad dog” stage. The animal has no fear and suffers from hallucinations. If confined, the animal often attacks the bars of the cage.
PARALYTIC OR DUMB STAGE (Next 2 days)
Weakness/paralysis sets in. The larynx is paralyzed resulting in an inability to swallow, thus drooling and “foaming at the mouth” result. The animal dies when the intercostal muscles (which control breathing) are paralyzed. It is from animals in this stage where most human exposure occurs. There is no treatment for animals or humans once clinical signs appear.
Once the virus has been released to body secretions, it is again accessible to the immune system; however, the patient dies before an adequate immune response is mounted.
The classical symptoms of rabies described above may not be obviously recognizable, making diagnosis difficult if not impossible in a living animal. Long quarantines are often needed to determine if infection has occurred.
In order to raise awareness of rabies, a World Rabies Day is scheduled annually to call attention to this problem. More information about rabies in both humans and animals can be from that website.
Happily, rabies prevention is accomplished with vaccination and limiting exposure to wildlife. The standard killed-virus vaccines are available for both dogs and cats and, after the initial dose, which is good for one year, subsequent doses are generally good for three years. Because of an association with tumor development in cats with killed virus vaccine, a recombinant product is now available that uses a portion of rabies viral DNA cloned into a harmless canarypox virus. This vaccine is just as effective as the traditional vaccines but must be administered annually. Rabies vaccination protocols are typically controlled by municipal regulations. Most communities legally require vaccination of all dogs. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends rabies vaccination for all cats.
The Law Regarding Animal Bites (Against Humans) Arizona
It is very important to quarantine all animals suspected of rabies. This includes dogs and cats that have bitten a person. All domestic animals that bite (dogs and cats) must be quarantined for 10 days or humanely euthanized. Ferrets must be quarantined for 14 days. Most domestic animals will be quarantined. The quarantine begins on the day the bite occurred. Quarantine means placing the animal in a facility that provides: absolute security; isolation; and observance twice a day by a qualified person. If signs of rabies develop or the animal dies during the observation period, the animal should be tested for rabies.
Quarantine must be in one of the following facilities:
– Approved veterinary clinic operated by a licensed veterinarian
– One of MCACC’s shelters
– Owner’s home, if approved by MCACC.
Home quarantine is approved if:
– The animal was currently licensed and vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days prior to the date of the bite (also, if under four months of age).
– A rabies vaccination certificate signed by a licensed veterinarian is the only acceptable proof of vaccination.
– The animal was not a stray at the time of the bite.
-The owner’s home has an enclosure that will provide the required security and isolation.
– MCACC or a licensed veterinarian observes the animal at least on the first and last days of the quarantine period.
The owner of the bite animal is required by state law to pay the cost of the quarantine.
All dogs that have bitten are required by law to be quarantined for ten days.
The place of quarantine depends on a number if factors, including if the dog has a current rabies vaccination, is licensed and the severity of the bite. Dogs that were not leashed at the time of the bite, do not have a Maricopa County dog license or current rabies vaccination are usually quarantined at a Maricopa Animal Care and Control Centers or a veterinarian’s office. Animals that are vaccinated and licensed at the time of the bite can be quarantined in the owner’s home at the discretion of the MCACC Officer.
MCACC only holds the dog for rabies observation purposes. If the dog has rabies, the dog will manifest signs of the disease within ten days. The dog is not held for being vicious. If a vicious dog petition is not filed within ten days, the owner will have the opportunity to get their dog back.
Protocol for Dogs and Cats that Have Been Exposed to a Potentially Rabid Animal
When a domestic animal has direct contact with a rabid or potentially rabid wild animal, it is considered to have had a potential exposure to rabies. It is very important to submit the wild mammal for rabies testing if possible (DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CATCH A WILD ANIMAL!! – Contact Animal Control for assistance!!). Wild mammals that are not available for laboratory testing should be presumed rabid. Domestic animals that bite other domestic animals are not usually considered as potentially rabid unless they are exhibiting signs compatible with the disease.
Determine whether the dog or cat is vaccinated against rabies.
1. Find out if the wild animal to which the dog/cat was exposed is available for rabies testing.
2. If the wild animal is not available for testing, presume the wild animal is positive.
3. If the wild animal tests positive for rabies (or presumed positive), proceed as follows:
If the dog/cat is currently vaccinated against rabies:
1. Notify local animal control.
2. Immediately take the dog/cat to a veterinarian for a booster rabies vaccination.
3. Confine the dog or cat under the owner’s control and observe closely for 45 days.
The animal should be kept in a building, pen, or escape proof enclosure. The animal should only be removed from confinement on a leash and under supervision of a responsible adult. (Some town or county ordinances may be more restrictive than state law and not allow home quarantine)
4. At the first sign of illness or behavioral change, the animal should be taken to a veterinarian, and the health department and animal control should be contacted IMMEDIATELY.
If the exposed dog/cat has never been vaccinated against rabies:
1. Notify local animal control.
2. Consider immediate humane euthanasia OR;
3. Animal control will quarantine the animal for 180 days (6 months) in an approved facility run by either a veterinarian or an animal shelter.
4. The owner is responsible for payment of all expenses related to the quarantine.
5. A veterinarian should vaccinate the animal against rabies upon entry into isolation or one month prior to release to comply with pre-exposure vaccination recommendations. The quarantine is completed 180 days after the exposure.
LAWS REGARDING BITING DOGS AND RABIES VACCINATION ARE HIGHLY REGIONAL. CHECK WITH YOUR LOCAL ANIMAL REGULATION DEPARTMENT OR VETERINARIAN TO FIND OUT WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW.
If you are Exposed, conatct your health provider immediately!!
A fresh bite wound should be washed out with water quickly as this may wash out viral particles. The time it takes for the virus to reach the brain depends on the amount of virus present in addition to the proximity of the wound to the head.
If the animal is dead, the head of the biting animal is submitted to the health department for fluorescent antibody testing for the rabies virus. This process takes a matter of hours so that any bite victims can know right away if they will require rabies treatment. If the biting animal is living, its vaccination status should be confirmed as soon as possible and it will need to be confined. The bite wound should be reported to the health department as soon as possible.
Hyperimmune (antibody rich) serum is flushed into the wound in hope of inactivating the virus before it may penetrate to the nerves. The patient receives a vaccination on a regular schedule for about a month. In this way, when the virus comes out in secretions, a strong immune response is waiting to put down the infection.
Quarantines when Traveling
Great Britain, Hawaii, and several other island areas have successfully eradicated rabies from their territory. These places are EXTREMELY cautious about allowing potential carriers of rabies in. Because of the long incubation period of rabies, a long quarantine is needed; however, this must be balanced by the expense associated with quarantine and an owner’s reluctance to be separated from his or her pet. Most places that have eradicated rabies have special protocols for avoiding or minimizing quarantine. Typically, a microchip is implanted in the pet for identification purposes, a rabies antibody titer (a measurement of vaccine-induced protection) must be performed at an approved laboratory, and rabies vaccine documentation is necessary.
For listings of what each state requires for entry, the USDA has prepared a Web site with the most recent regulations at:
For travel to another country it is best to check with that country’s consulate but guidelines are also available at USDA.
Date Published: 1/1/2001
Date Reviewed/Revised: 05/03/2012
Copyright 2012 – 2013 by the Veterinary Information Network, Inc. All rights reserved.
Arizona Manual for Rabies Control and Bite Mangagement Copyright 2013 Arizona Department of Health Services. Bureau of Epidemiology & Disease Control Infectious Disease ~ Vector-Borne & Zoonotic Program