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Frequently Asked Questions about Rabies

What is rabies?

Rabies is a serious disease that is caused by a virus. The word "rabies" comes from a Latin word that means "to rage." Rabies got its name because animals with rabies sometimes act as if they are angry. Rabies attacks the brain and spinal cord. It kills you if not prevented.

What animals can get rabies?

Any mammal can get rabies. The most common are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes, and coyotes. Domestic mammals can also get rabies. Cats, cattle, and dogs are the most frequently reported rabid domestic animals in the United States. Humans can also get rabies from infected animals.

How do animals and humans get rabies?

An animal gets rabies from saliva, usually from a bite of an animal that has the disease. You cannot get rabies from blood. Most humans get rabies from domestic animals (cats and dogs) who have not been vaccinated. Each year, rabies kills more than 50,000 people and millions of animals around the world.

What is the best way to prevent rabies?

The best way to prevent rabies is to be a responsible pet owner:

  • Keep vaccinations  up-to-date for all dogs and cats. This also provides a barrier of protection to you, if your animal is bitten by a rabid animal.
  • Make sure your pet gets and wears their rabies vaccination tags. They should also wear a tag with their name and your address and phone number. And microchip your pet to insure his/her records can be found.
  • Keep your pets under direct supervision so they do not come in contact with strays or wild animals. Keep them in a fenced yard or on a leash. If your pet is bitten by a stray or wild animal, seek veterinary assistance for your pet immediately.
  • Call Miami-Dade Animal Services at 3-1-1 or 305-884-1101, to remove any stray dogs from your neighborhood. Strays may not be vaccinated and could be infected by the disease.
  • Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or regularly vaccinated. Pets that are fixed are less likely to leave home.
  • Do not handle, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open trash cans or litter. Do not feed your pet outside or leave pet food outside.
  • Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse sick animals to health. Call Animal Services or an animal rescue agency for assistance.
  • Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. 

Where can I get rabies vaccinations for my pet?

Vaccinations may be obtained from a Veterinarian or at Miami-Dade Animal Services.

What are the symptoms of rabies in animals?

Animals with rabies may act differently from healthy animals. A pet that is usually friendly may snap at you or may try to bite. Animals in the early stage of rabies may not have any signs, although they can still infect you if they bite you. The incubation period is the time from the animal bite to when signs appear. In rabies, it is usually 1-3 months. But it can last as long as several years. Once the virus reaches the brain or spinal cord, signs of the disease appear. Some signs of rabies in animals are:

  • Changes in an animal’s behavior. Wild animals may move slowly or may act as if they are tame.
  • General sickness
  • Problems swallowing
  • Increased drooling or saliva
  • Aggression – may bite at everything if excited
  • Wild animals that appear abnormally tame or sick
  • Difficulty moving or paralysis
  • Fear of Water
  • Death

What should you do if you're bitten by an animal?

If you are bitten by an animal that could have rabies, clean the bite wound with soap and water for at least 5 minutes and seek medical attention immediately.

What are the symptoms of rabies in humans?

In humans, signs and symptoms usually occur 30-90 days after the bite. Once people develop symptoms, they almost always die. Early symptoms of rabies in humans are nonspecific, consisting of:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • General malaise

As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Slight or partial paralysis
  • Excitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation

Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms. This is why medical assistance should be obtained as soon as possible after you have been bitten.

If you are bitten will you have to have rabies shots?

A doctor will assess the risk for rabies exposure. If necessary, a regimen of one dose of immune globulin and five doses of rabies vaccine over a 28-day period will be given. Current vaccines are relatively painless and are given in your arm, like a flu or tetanus vaccine.

What will happen to the dog or cat that bit me?

  • If the cat or dog appeared healthy at the time you were bitten, it can be confined by its owner for 10 days and observed. Anti-rabies shots will probably not be needed.
  • If the dog or cat does not have an owner, it will be quarantined at the shelter for up to a 10 day period.
  • You should seek medical advice about the need for anti-rabies shots.
  • If a dog or cat, appeared ill at the time it bit you or becomes ill during the 10 day quarantine, it should be evaluated by a veterinarian for signs of rabies and you should seek medical advice about the need for anti-rabies shots.
  • No person in the United States has ever contracted rabies from a dog or cat held under quarantine for 10 days. The quarantine period is a precaution against the remote possibility that an animal may appear healthy, but actually be sick with rabies.
Back to Top Page Last Edited: Tue Oct 22, 2013 11:32:56 AM
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