Type of Animal and Rabies Risk

An animal that is infected with the rabies virus can transmit it to a human. The type of animal you are bitten by affects your chances of becoming infected with the rabies virus. Your local health department can help you assess the risk of rabies exposure from animals in your area.

Wild animals

  • Bats. Most cases of human rabies acquired in the United States and Canada are associated with exposure to bats.1, 2 Sometimes the wound from a bat is so small that it may be unclear whether a bite has occurred. Steps to prevent rabies are always recommended after exposure to a bat, unless the animal is tested and shown to be free of the rabies virus. If you awaken to find a bat in the room and are not certain whether a bite or direct contact with the bat has occurred, the animal should be tested for rabies.
  • Other wild animals. In the United States and Canada, other types of wild animals, such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes, are common hosts of the rabies virus. (Your local health department will have specific information about whether these animals may be infected in your area.) Treatment for rabies is always recommended after exposure to one of these animals, unless it is tested and shown to be free of the rabies virus.

Rodents, such as hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, squirrels, and mice, are very unlikely to have rabies.2

Animals that are never infected with the rabies virus include:

  • Reptiles and other cold-blooded vertebrates.
  • Animals without a spine (invertebrates, such as insects and crustaceans).

Tame (domesticated) animals

In the United States and Canada, dogs, cats, and domestic ferrets usually are vaccinated against rabies. The chance of getting rabies from any of these household pets is very low. If you are bitten by one of these animals and the animal can be confined and observed and shows no signs of rabies for 10 days, you will not need treatment.

Citations

  1. Plotkin SA, et al. (2009). Rhabdoviridae: Rabies virus. In RD Feigin et al., eds., Feigin and Cherry’s Textbook of Pediatrics Infectious Diseases, 6th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2494–2511. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Rabies. In LK Pickering et al., eds., Red Book: 2009 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 28th ed., pp. 552–559. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
Last Revised August 27, 2012

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