Rabies is a viral disease that is almost always fatal. It is a disease of the neurological system and the brain for which there is no cure. Usually nothing can be done once symptoms occur. Rabies is spread to people and other mammals by bite wounds. The virus is in the saliva and when a bite happens, the transmission occurs. Every year in the United States about 50 dogs and 250 cats die from Rabies. Worldwide about 55,000 people die every year. This is why it is the law for people to vaccinate their pets. There is also a licensed vaccine for ferrets, horses, cows and sheep.
In Minnesota the most common animal that carries rabies is the skunk. Skunks mainly spread rabies to other animals. Bats are the most common animal to spread rabies to people in Minnesota. Animals that carry rabies include dogs, cats, horses, cattle, racoons, foxes, coyotes. Animals that do not carry rabies are hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, voles, rats, and mice.
It is very important to keep your pets’ rabies vaccines up to date. If your pet gets bitten by a wild animal call your veterinarian. If your pet is up to date, it just needs a rabies booster. If it is not up to date, revaccinate your pet and keep it quarantined in your house for 45 days. If your pet has never been vaccinated it may need to be held for 180 days or euthanized and have the brain tested. You can also call the Minnesota Board of Animal Health at 651-201-6808 for advice.
In the event a person is bitten by an animal, if it is someone's pet, try to get the name of the owner and the vaccine history. If the pet is up to date, it may be quarantined and watched for 10 days. You may need to deal with the police. If an animal has rabies, it will get sick and die within 10 days. If a person it bitten by a wild animal and the animal is not available for testing, the person will need preventative shots. You can call the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5414. You can also go to their website at www.health.state.mn.us.
The only way to test for rabies is testing the brain tissue of a deceased animal. The body or head is sent to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in St. Paul, Minnesota. It is best to hand deliver it. The body needs to be kept cool, but not frozen. When testing a bat, send the whole body that you have captured in a plastic container with the lid taped shut. On the Minnesota Department of Health web site there is a video on how to capture a bat. Do not use a pillowcase, blankets, or towels as the bat can bite through them. Wear leather gloves. Approach the bat slowly and put the container over it. Then slide the lid under it. Flip it over and secure the lid with tape.
You should submit a bat for testing if a person has been bitten or had any physical contact with the bat, if a bat is in your bedroom where you were sleeping, or if a bat is in a room with a child or a person that cannot communicate. A bat bite can feel like a pin prick or nothing at all.
If you are unable to test the bat or animal that bit you, you should call the Minnesota Department of Health and they will advise you. You may need to get the prophylactic post-exposure vaccines. It is important to get these injections as soon as possible.
Please keep your pets up to date on their rabies shots for their wellbeing and yours. It’s also the law. Remember to vaccinate your cats also. Even if your cats do not go outside, bats can still enter your home and put you and your pets at risk.