Animal bites and scratches can spread rabies. Rabies is caused by a virus that infects the brains of warm-blooded animals. This includes our pets, like cats and dogs, and wild animals, like bats, raccoons, foxes and skunks. Rabies is carried in saliva (or spit) and can spread to people who have contact with the saliva of an infected animal through a bite or scratch that breaks the skin.
Rabies is a serious disease and there is no cure. People who develop symptoms of rabies die. CK Public Health works to prevent you from getting rabies.
What We Do
Our public health inspectors:
- Investigate all possible exposures to rabies, including animal bites and scratches
- Give advice to healthcare providers and help people get vaccinated for rabies when needed
- Educate the public on preventing rabies
- Enforce rabies prevention and control laws
Who’s at Risk?
In Ontario, rabies is regularly found in bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes and other wild animals. Wild animals can spread rabies to pets and people. Anyone who has been bitten or scratched by an animal is at risk.
Animals infected with rabies may appear healthy for up to 10 days before they show symptoms. During this time, they can spread rabies to people who do not realize the animal is sick. For this reason, it is very important for CK Public Health to investigate all animal bites and scratches so that we can act quickly to prevent people from getting rabies before it is too late.
If you are bitten or scratched by an infected animal, rabies can be prevented if you get vaccinated for rabies before you develop symptoms. Once you develop symptoms, there is no cure.
How You Can Protect Yourself
Do these things to protect yourself:
- Keep your pets vaccinated for rabies – shots must be updated every 1 to 3 years
- Avoid contact with strays or wild animals – it’s against the law to keep wild animals as pets
- Keep your pets away from wild animals
- Report animal bites or scratches to CK Public Health
- Talk to your doctor about rabies vaccination if you are travelling to a country where rabies is widespread
Mandatory Pet Immunization
By law, all cats, dogs and ferrets older than three months must be immunized for rabies. Pets must be re-immunized every 1 to 3 years, depending on the type of rabies immunization they get.
Farm animals, like horses, cows, bulls, steers, calves or sheep that come into contact with the public must also be vaccinated for rabies.
Signs of Rabies in Animals
Animals with rabies will appear healthy for up to 10 days before symptoms appear. Symptoms include:
- Acting strangely (wild animals may seem friendly or pets may become aggressive)
- Excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth
- Difficulty walking, eating or drinking
- For bats, difficulty flying and being out in daylight
If you have been Bitten or Scratched
If you have been bitten or scratched by an animal:
- Immediately flush the wound with water for at least 15 minutes
- See your healthcare provider or go to the hospital as soon as possible
- Report the bite or scratch to CK Public Health
A public health inspector will follow up with you as soon as possible.
If you see an Animal Acting Strangely
If you see an animal acting strangely:
- Stay away from the animal – do not touch it
- If your pet has had contact with the animal, call your veterinarian
- If no people or pets have had contact with the animal, call the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry Rabies Information Line at 1-888-574-6656