What You Need To Know: Rabies and Your Pet

We wanted to remind all our pet owners how critical it is to keep your pets up-to-date with their rabies vaccinations, and safe from this deadly disease. Many wild animals in our area can carry the rabies virus, and once an unprotected pet is bitten, there is no cure. Read this helpful FAQ on rabies, and call us to make sure your pet’s vaccine is current.

What is rabies?


Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including humans. This virus is typically spread via the saliva of infected animals through bite wounds or by saliva or infected tissue that contacts open wounds and the oral cavity.

Worldwide rabies kills more than 55,000 people yearly. In the United States, the number of human deaths from rabies is 2-3 per year, although 20,000-30,000 people in the U.S. receive post-exposure rabies vaccination yearly. The majority of human cases of rabies in the world are due to contact with a rabid companion animal. Vaccination is the key component to controlling this fatal and untreatable disease.

Is rabies present in Wisconsin?

Yes. In Wisconsin, skunks and bats are the most likely animals to carry the rabies virus, although rabies also can occur in dogs, cats, foxes, raccoons and livestock.

Is rabies treatable?

No. Once symptoms of the rabies virus are present, there is no treatment. The infected person or animal will die.

Is there a test for rabies?

Testing of brain tissue can be done on a deceased animal. There is no test for rabies that can be done on live animals or people.

How can my pet be exposed?

There are many ways for our pets to come into contact with rabid wildlife. When a bat is infected with rabies it is more easily preyed upon and often seen during the day (which is not typical for healthy bats). Curious cats may see a struggling bat as an easy prey. Saliva from the bat may enter the cat through a bite from the bat or directly into the cat’s mouth. Dogs may come across a rabid bat or skunk while outdoors, on trails, near caves, or even in their own back yard.

But my cat never leaves the house.

I know of multiple “indoor-only” cats with exposure to a rabid bat that entered their home through a chimney flue, open window, or open door. Even indoor-only cats should be vaccinated against rabies.

Are horses and livestock affected?

Yes. Yearly vaccination against rabies is recommended for horses and livestock.

How do I protect my pet from rabies?

Consult with your veterinarian to vaccinate your pet(s) against rabies and be sure to follow recommendations regarding appropriate and timely re-vaccination. Your pet will need multiple rabies vaccinations throughout his or her life.

My pet had contact with a bat (skunk, sick raccoon, etc.) What should I do?

Do not touch the wild animal. Keep people, children, and other pets from being able to access the wild animal. If possible, try to safely contain the animal (place a box or net over the animal, confine it to a room, etc.).

Do not release the wild animal if at all possible. Call your local animal control and local health department. They will likely want to collect the wild animal to test it for rabies.

Call your veterinarian to determine your pet’s rabies vaccination status. A booster rabies vaccination will likely be recommended. Depending on how many rabies vaccines your pet has had and if the most recent vaccination is up to date will determine quarantine protocol as determined by the health department.

My pet’s rabies vaccine is not current. What happens if he is exposed to a sick bat?

If your pet had direct contact and the rabies status of the bat can’t be determined (i.e. the bat was released after the pet’s exposure), your pet will need to be quarantined for 180 days. The first 90 days of this quarantine will be required to occur in an approved facility (not your home) and you will be responsible for all expenses incurred. If this quarantine can’t be accomplished, the health department may require your pet to be euthanized.

What if I am exposed to a sick wild animal?

If possible, safely contain the wild animal so that it can be submitted for post mortem rabies testing. Post exposure vaccination in humans is successful in preventing rabies (as long as the vaccines are started soon after exposure). Immediately consult local animal control, local health department and your physician to determine the course of action depending on your situation.

Rabies is a fatal illness and a serious public health issue. Through regular vaccination against rabies for our companion animals we can protect them and ourselves from this deadly virus. Please do not ignore your veterinarian’s rabies vaccine reminder. By allowing your pet’s rabies vaccination to lapse, you place your pet (and yourself) at risk. Lengthy quarantine (or euthanasia) or death from rabies is easily avoided by keeping your pet current on his or her vaccination.