We have cases of animal rabies every year in Dane County. Do you know how to prevent it?


A bat is on the ground
Today is World Rabies Day, which is a great time to brush up on why rabies vaccination is critical for animals. If your only exposure to rabies education is through an old episode of The Office, we’ve got some important info to share!

Rabies is an infectious disease caused by a virus that spreads from infected animals to humans and other animals, usually from a bite. Rabies can be prevented through vaccinating  pets and other domestic animals. While this is highly effective, there are still parts of the world, including the U.S., where rabies spreads due to infected wildlife and animals who were not vaccinated.

How to prevent rabies

In the U.S., rabies is well-controlled because vaccination is easily available for domestic animals. Keeping your pets up to date on rabies vaccinations is the best way to keep them and your family safe. Rabies vaccines are good for 1 year or 3 years, depending on your pet’s age at vaccination and vaccination history.

Know the rabies vaccination laws

  • Dogs. Wisconsin law says all dogs must be vaccinated by the age of 5 months. .
  • Cats. In Madison, all cats must be vaccinated. Many other areas in Dane County require cats to be licensed, and a rabies vaccination is required for licensing. Check with your municipality to see if they require a license for cats.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about how often your pet needs to receive a rabies vaccine. 

Rabies and Bats

Of the last four cases of human rabies in Wisconsin, all four people were exposed to infected bats. Our Animal Services Officers collect hundreds of bats from homes in our communities every year. If you wake up to a bat in your house, it can be hard to tell if you, your kids, or your pet were bitten because their teeth are small and the marks can disappear quickly. Though most of the bats we capture do not test positive for rabies, it’s best to not take any risk and always contact our Animal Services Officers to have the bat tested. So if you think your pet is safe because it never goes outside, just know that the few rabid bats we find are most often caught indoors!

To protect your family and pets from bat bites, use screens and block any small openings where bats could enter. The CDC has more information on keeping bats out of your house.  

What to do if you or your pet are bitten by an animal

Report any bites to people from wild and domestic animals to us by calling (608) 255-2345 or using our  online form. Make sure to clean the wound with soap and water right away. It is important to find the animal that bit you or your pet so it can be tested for rabies.

If it was a cat or dog:

  • Check to see if the bite broke the skin before the owner leaves the area.
  • Ask the owner to verify their pet is up to date on rabies shots.
  • Exchange names and phone numbers with the pet’s owner, like you would do in a car crash. You, your doctor, or our officers may need their contact information at a later time.
  • If you can’t find the animal that bit you, or it shows signs of rabies, see your doctor for treatment. Here are some tips if you don’t have insurance. If your pet was bitten, see a veterinarian as soon as possible.

If it was a wild animal:

  • If you can safely do so, try to capture the animal. Be careful so it doesn’t bite you again.
  • We may be able to help capture it. Call (608) 255-2345 and ask for Animal Services. Our officers are on duty from 8:00 am - 6:00 pm, seven days a week.
  • If you need to kill the animal, don’t damage the head. The lab uses the head for the rabies test. Call us at (608) 255-2345 and ask us to pick the animal up. Keep the animal cool, ideally in a fridge or cooler, until we arrive.
  • If the animal wasn’t captured, see your doctor right away to determine if you need treatment. Here are some tips if you don’t have insurance. If your pet was bitten, see a veterinarian as soon as possible.

See our page on Animal Bites & Rabies or the CDC’s website for more information.

This content is free for use with credit to Public Health Madison & Dane County .

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