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This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about Rabies.

Rabies is a disease that affects animals and people. Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the brain and nervous system.

The basics

What is rabies?

Once people get the virus, it spreads through the body and is fatal without quick treatment. You can prevent rabies with a vaccine. Prompt treatment will prevent people who come in contact with a rabid animal from getting rabies. Treatment involves 4 or 5 shots of rabies vaccine in the arm and one shot of Human Rabies Immune Globulin (HRIG).

How is rabies spread?

The rabies virus spreads through the saliva of a rabid animal. Usually it is because a rabid animal bites another animal or person or scratches another animal or person and saliva gets into the wound. The virus may also get into the body through open cuts or wounds, or through the eyes, nose, or mouth. 

What animals can spread rabies?

In the United States, rabies spreads mostly by wild animals. Rabies is usually found in raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, woodchucks, and bats. Domestic animals like dogs, cats, ferrets, and farm animals can get rabies as well. Vaccinating your pets can prevent them from getting rabies.

Any mammal can get rabies. Birds, fish, snakes, and amphibians do not carry rabies. Although it is possible for rodents to get the disease, animals like mice, rats, and squirrels almost never carry rabies.

What should I do if a person or a pet is exposed to an animal that might have rabies?

If you get bitten, scratched, or exposed, including waking up in a room with a bat, to an animal’s saliva:

  • Wash the wound right away with soap and water for 10 minutes
  • Call you health care provider or BPHC Infectious Disease Bureau at 617-534-5611
  • Give a description of the animal that bit or scratched you
  • In Boston, call Animal Control at 617-635-5348 for assistance. Get the animal that bit or scratched you tested for rabies or quarantined

If your pet gets bitten, scratched, or exposed to an animal’s saliva:

  • Try to find out what type of animal bit or scratched your pet. Do not touch the attacking animal
  • Use gloves or a hose to wash your pet’s wound. Do not touch your pet with bare hands. There may be saliva from the rabid animal still on your pet, even if you don’t see a bite or wound
  • Call your veterinarian and BPHC Infectious Disease Bureau at 617-534-5611 to find out how to protect yourself


What can I do to prevent rabies?

  • Vaccinate your pets! Cats, dogs, and ferrets all need vaccinations from a veterinarian regularly. Make sure their vaccinations are up-to-date
  • Do not feed or handle wild animals. Teach children that although a baby raccoon or skunk may look cute and friendly, it can be very dangerous
  • Do not feed or touch stray animals and avoid all sick or strange-acting animals
  • Cover your garbage cans and don’t leave pets’ food outside where it can attract wild animals
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets. Not only is this dangerous for you and the animal, it is also against the law
  • Do not touch or pick up dead animals
  • Never handle a bat with bare hands. Use thick gloves, tongs, or a shovel to remove the dead bat, or call a bat-removal expert. Don’t crush the bat with a tennis racquet or other object
  • Do not let your pet play with bats
  • Keep bats out of the house or other buildings by closing or covering the attic or other dark sheltered areas. Put screens on windows

Dogs and Rabies

Although the risk is small, dogs can carry rabies. Visit our page on dog bite prevention for more information or view our informational brochures below:

Dog bite prevention

Prevención de Mordeduras de Perro

Fason pou Anpeche Chen Mòde

Prevenção contra mordida de cão


Phòng ngừa chó cắn

Kahortagga Qaniinyada Eyga

For more information on rabies, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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