The Truth About Rabies

When the word rabies is mentioned most people first think of the heartbreaking scene, in the Disney classic, Old Yeller. While that scene is heart-wrenching, to say the least, it does hold some truth to how rabies was in the US 100 years ago. Thankfully though today, with the advancement in vaccines, we see less and less of losing a loved one (4-legged) to the rabies virus. With vaccinations and proper education the rabies virus could easily become a thing of the past.

Facts About Rabies:

  • Rabies is a virus that infects the central nervous system. It travels to the brain and eventually causes death.
  • The virus is spread to animals or people by coming into contact with infected saliva or brain/nervous system tissue.
  • All mammals are susceptible.
  • The rabies virus is found on every continent except Antarctica.
  • Most common wildlife nationwide infected: raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes.
  • Raccoon rabies has been found in the raccoon population in virtually every North Carolina county.
  • Most common “pets” infected: cats, dogs, ferrets, horses, cattle and sheep.
  • In North Carolina all dogs, cats, and ferrets 4 months or older must be current on rabies vaccination. The vaccine MUST be administered by a licensed veterinarian. NC General Statue 130A-185
  • Rabies is 100% vaccine preventable.
  • Every year in the US 1-3 people die from rabies.


What to do when exposed to the rabies virus:


  • Wash wound thoroughly with soap and warm water for 15 minutes.
  • Seek immediate medical attention.
  • Based on the type of exposure the doctor and the local health department will decide the treatment needed. (i.e. post exposure vaccination)
  • Report to local health department and animal control/services.


Cats/Dogs in North Carolina

  • If your pet has been exposed to a rabid animal and they are current on their rabies vaccine (has to have been given more than 28 days prior to exposure), they can be revaccinated. It has to be within 5 days of the exposure. If it has been over 5 days then the pet will be viewed as not being current.
  • North Carolina high risk wildlife: raccoons, bats, foxes, skunks, bobcats, coyotes, beavers, and groundhogs/woodchucks.
  • If not current on rabies vaccine, the mammal that exposed the rabies virus to the pet, is euthanized and sent off to the state lab for testing (if the mammal is unavailable then treat as a positive).
  • If rabies test reports negative then revaccinate pet.
  • If rabies test reports positive then:
    • Euthanize exposed pet OR
    • Pet is placed on strict 6 month quarantine (usually somewhere that the pet has no contact with either humans or other animals).

Being exposed to the rabies virus is an urgent matter. Once signs and symptoms appear it is too late to start treatment and rabies is nearly always fatal.

With the proper education and vaccinations, you can help prevent you or your beloved 4-legged friends from having to experience an Old Yeller rabies scene.