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Rabies Prevention

Definition of Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease that infects the brain and results in death.

Rabies can Infect

  • Humans
  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Livestock and any other mammal
  • Bats


The rabies virus is carried in the saliva of an infected animal and can be transmitted when the animal bites or scratches another animal or person. The saliva from an infected animal coming in contact with any area such as an open wound or skin break can transmit the virus.

Animals that Carry Rabies

Skunks and bats are the most common wild animals found to have rabies, though any mammal can carry the virus. Livestock, like cattle and horses, may be vaccinated against rabies, but may have to be tested if suspected to be rabid.

Symptoms - Warning Signs

A dog or cat or any animal that is infected with rabies may transmit the disease for several days before symptoms appear. The earliest sign of rabies is a change in behavior. This change in behavior may be very subtle, so it is extremely important to wash and report all animal bites.

Two Behavior Types of Rabies in Animals
  • Furious Rabies Behavior is aggressive and excitable. The animal can suddenly attack when approached.
  • Dumb Rabies Unusually shy or approachable, sluggish, confused, and/or depressed.

Other Symptoms

Excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth, and paralysis.

Protecting Pets


Getting your dogs and cats vaccinated is their best protection against the rabies virus. Dogs and cats should be vaccinated when they are five months old and revaccinated a year later. Vaccination shots do not last the lifetime of your pet. Revaccination is required every 1 to 3 years. In Wisconsin, all dogs are required to be vaccinated and in Madison, cats must also be vaccinated.

Additional Protection

Keep wild and unfamiliar animals away from your pets.

Protecting Yourself


People do not need to be vaccinated for rabies unless they are exposed to the virus. The best protection for people against rabies is to get their pets vaccinated.


  • Avoid wild animals.
  • Avoid any animal with symptoms of rabies.
  • Do not approach or touch unfamiliar animals.
  • Block any openings into your house that an animal may get in through.
  • Keep tamper-proof lids on outside garbage cans so animals are not attracted to your property.

Human Exposure to Rabies

If you have been bitten or scratched by an animal

  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Contact Public Health Madison & Dane County Animal Services Officers at (608) 267-1989. If an Animal Services Officer is not on duty, contact Police Dispatch at (608) 255-2345. You should also call your doctor immediately.

If the animal is wild:

  • Keep an eye on the animal so that it can be captured. It is okay for you to capture the animal if you can do so without being bitten again.
  • If it is necessary to kill the animal, avoid damaging the head so it may be sent to a lab for examination.
  • If the test results come back positive for rabies, you will need to be vaccinated as soon as possible.
  • If the animal did not have rabies, you were not exposed at the time of the incident.
  • If the animal was not captured, it is assumed that the animal was rabid and you will need to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

If the animal is domestic:

  • Determine if the animal is currently vaccinated by checking the rabies tag on the collar or having the owner call his/her veterinarian.
  • All domestic animals involved in a human exposure incident need to be placed on a 10-day quarantine.
  • The pet needs to be examined by a veterinarian before, during and after the quarantine.
  • If the animal exhibits no signs of rabies, it was not contagious at the time of the incident and you were not exposed.
  • If the animal shows signs of rabies, it will be euthanized and you need to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Where and how to get care:

  • If you have health insurance:
    • Contact your health care provider to find out where to get treatment and follow up.
  • If you do not have health insurance:
    • Contact a local urgent care center and ask if they have treatment available.
    • Going to an urgent care is less expensive than the emergency room.
    • Preventive care may be costly, but it is important for your health.
    • Each clinic offers help for the uninsured.

The care that you will receive:

  • A doctor will determine the best way to care for your wound.
  • Wound cleansing is very important in rabies prevention.
  • You will need a tetanus shot if you haven't had one in 10 years.
  • A combination of human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) and vaccine is recommended for both bite and non-bite exposures.
  • Three more vaccines are needed after the first visit. They are not the painful injections of the past!

Pet Exposure to Rabies

Contact your veterinarian and Animal Services if you suspect your pet of having rabies. Keep children and other people away from the pet until it is examined by a veterinarian. Your pet will be quarantined if it was exposed to a rabid animal. It must be isolated from other animals and human contact limited. There are two types of quarantines for pets that have been exposed to another rabid animal:

60-day quarantine

A pet that has received all of its rabies shots is placed in a 60-day quarantine and is to be immediately revaccinated.

6-month quarantine

A pet that has not received all of its rabies shots is placed in a 6-month quarantine. It is not to be vaccinated until the 5th month. If the pet is suspected of having rabies, it is euthanized.

Prevention is the Best Medicine . . . and that's what public health is all about.

Prevention will help save you money, pain and your life. Vaccinate your pets against rabies. If you have questions or concerns about rabies, contact the Health Department, a veterinarian or physician.
Key Contacts
  • Animal Services Office:
    (608) 267-1989
  • Animal Services Officer Dispatch:
    (608) 255-2345
  • Dane County Humane Society:
    (608) 838-0413
  • Dane County Humane Society's Wildlife Center:
    (608) 838-0413 (ext 151)