What You Should Know!

This is a brief synopsis of a very serious disease.  For a more in-depth tutorial, please contact the Center for Disease Control, your local Environmental Health Department or Animal Control Department.

Who Can Contract Rabies and How is it Transmitted?

All species of warm-blooded animals can get rabies, although there are differences in susceptibility.

Opossums and birds are among the most resistant types. These are followed by rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, moles, mice, rats and other rodents. Large rodents are more likely to survive an attack by a rabid animal and will sometimes develop rabies. The disease has been documented in woodchucks, groundhogs, and a couple of otters from Georgia. Any bites by these animals should be reported; however, unless the circumstances are extremely unusual, testing will not be done.

The most susceptible species include: fox, bobcat, raccoon, skunk, bat, wolf, coyote, and cattle.

Domestic dogs, cats, horses, sheep, goats, nonhuman primates, and humans are intermediate in susceptibility.

Primarily, the rabies virus is present in the saliva of an infected animal. Any bite, scratch, or other situation where saliva or central nervous system tissue (such as spinal fluid or brain tissue), of a potentially rabid animal comes in contact with a mucous membrane ( the eye, nose, or mouth lining) or through a cut or abrasion that has broken the skin (less than 24 hours old). Contact with the urine, feces, or blood of a potentially rabid animal does not constitute exposure since the virus follows nerve pathways and has almost no circulation in the blood. Other contact with a potentially rabid animal such as handling, petting, or just being in the vicinity of the animal also does not mean exposure and no treatment is required.

What Are the Symptoms of Rabies?

The incubation period for rabies from the time of exposure to the onset of clinical signs can vary from as short as 3 to 8 weeks to a year or more.

The time it takes for symptoms to occur depends on the location and severity of the bite or scratch. In animals there is typically a marked change in behavior.

Because of the variable incubation period, a pet animal may become infectious and present a danger to others yet still appear to be in good health.

If you know the animal has been exposed to a rabid animal, immediate euthanasia (humane killing) of the animal is recommended.

 Stages of Disease

There are several stages of the rabies disease before signs are evident, these include:

  • Wild animals losing their fear of humans
  • Unusual daytime appearances by nocturnal animals (fox, bat, raccoon)

In domestic animals the signs are:

  • Avoidance of food and water
  • Unusual aggression
  • Varying degrees of paralysis (frequently beginning in the hind legs)
  • Extreme depression
  • Lethargy
  • Aimless wandering
  • Lack of coordination and impaired locomotion
  • Excessive salivation
  • Loss of awareness
  • Any behavior not normal for that animal

Dumb Rabies, is the most common form. Furious Rabies, the better known form, is noted for the animals vicious attacks on anything that moves, even itself. Both forms always end in convulsions, coma and death.

Foaming at the mouth occurs when the disease has paralyzed the throat muscles and the animal becomes unable to swallow. Humans exposed to the rabies virus should immediately consult with their physician and the Environmental Health Department to determine the level of risk of exposure.

Once symptoms manifest, there is no treatment.

Only a laboratory test of the suspect animal's brain tissue can confirm the presence of rabies.

In most cases, Animal Control or Wildlife Management officials should be notified. Under no circumstances should anyone try to administer first aid or consolation to these animals; biting and attacking are likely even when the best interest of the animal is intended.

Call Animal Control or Wildlife Management for assistance with strangely behaving animals.

Assessing the Need for Treatment

The need for post-exposure treatment for yourself or your pet should be based on careful consideration of four basic areas:

  • Type of exposure
  • Animal behavior
  • Animal Species
  • Laboratory test results

If you think you or your pet has been exposed to a rabid animal, contact the Environmental Health Department and Animal Control immediately.

You may also call the Georgia Poison Control Center 24 hours a day at: 1-800-282-5846. They can help you determine the need for treatment.

Must My Pet Be Vaccinated For Rabies?

Vaccinations are required by state laws, and local ordinances. Vaccinating your cat or dog provides a measure of immunity against the disease and lessens the chance that it will develop rabies if exposed to the virus. Also, a vaccinated domestic population provides a buffer zone between wildlife rabies and humans.

Is Rabies Common in Camden County?
The majority of rabid animals have been raccoons, although rabies has been found in cats and bats. Raccoons are usually found in the vicinity of creek banks, streams and other bodies of water. Persons living in these areas should be alert for any contact between domestic animals and wildlife or for unusual behavior in the wildlife population.

What Can I Do to Protect Myself and My Family?

The key to the control and prevention of rabies in a community is responsible pet ownership.

All dogs and cats are required by law to be vaccinated against rabies at the age of 4 months and vaccinations must be kept current for the life of the animal.

Dogs are required by law to be physically restrained to the owner's property by fence or leash.

Roaming pets are more likely to be exposed to rabies without the owner's knowledge.

Make sure your dog or cat wears it animal license tag / rabies tag at all times so the vaccination status and owner can be easily established.

Do not keep wild animals as pets. Even a raccoon or skunk born and raised in captivity can be a rabies carrier. Further, the keeping of wild animals as pets is illegal in the state of Georgia without the proper permits and licenses.

Do not approach or handle any wild animals. Almost any animal will attack if cornered or threatened. Avoid wild animals even if they appear healthy or friendly. If you find an animal that may be sick or injured, contact Animal Control.

Make your house and yard unattractive to wild animals. Feed pets inside when possible, if fed outside remove uneaten food promptly; keep trash cans tightly covered; cap chimneys; and seal off any openings in attics, under porches, in basements, or outbuildings.

Teach children not to approach strange dogs, cats, or other animals and to report any bite, scratch or contact with any animal.

Report to Animal Control any strays or any animal(s) behaving in unusual or abnormal ways.

If your dog, cat, or other animal has been bitten or attacked by a raccoon or other wild animal or stray, report the incident to Animal Control so that appropriate action can be taken.

Report all animal bites to Animal Control.

In the event of an animal bite or scratch immediately clean out the wound with soap and running water. In addition, you may need to call your doctor, or the Health Department.

How Can We Learn More?

Speakers are available on this and other animal related topics to schools, civic and community groups. Please contact us if you are interested in hosting an educational program. Visit the Centers for Disease Control website for more in depth information on rabies, and other diseases.