Animal Bites

A bite from an infected animal is the most common way rabies is spread. It can also spread when infected saliva comes into contact with a scratch, open wound or your mouth, nose or eyes.

Rabies is a potentially fatal viral disease that attacks the nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including humans.

Symptoms of rabies

Symptoms of rabies in animals may include:

  • A change in behaviour
    • More quiet or depressed
    • Unusually friendly when normally timid
    • More aggressive toward people, animals, objects, or even its own body
  • Loss of appetite, or difficulty eating or drinking
  • Barking or meowing differently
  • Excessive drool
  • Biting the site of the wound where it was exposed to rabies
  • Overreacting to touch, sound or light
  • Staggering or falling
  • Becoming partially or completely unable to move
How to prevent bites and scratches 
  • Don't touch sick or injured animals
  • Don't approach or touch wild or unfamiliar animals, even if they seem friendly
  • Don't feed wild or stray animals
  • Keep bats out of your home
  • Know where your pet is at all times when outdoors
  • Keep pets away from wild animals or other unfamiliar pets
  • Keep animals on a leash, especially when walking on trails
  • Keep pets indoors at night and don't feed them outside where food can attract wildlife
What to do if you are bitten or scratched by an animal
  • Obtain the animal owner's contact information so that Public Health can follow up with the owner
  • Immediately wash the area thoroughly with soap and water to reduce the chance of infection
  • Call your family doctor, urgent care facility, or hospital emergency department
  • Report the bite or scratch to Public Health at 519-575-4400, or report online by filling out and submitting the Animal Bite Reporting Form
People at higher risk for rabies
  • Travellers - Speak with your doctor about pre-travel vaccination if you will be travelling to a country where rabies is a concern
  • People working closely with animals (e.g. veterinarians, animal control officers)
  • Spelunkers
Public Health's role in rabies investigations

When notified of a biting incident, Public Health Inspectors investigate to determine if there is a risk of rabies exposure.

  • If the animal involved can be located, the Public Health inspector will place the animal under observation in the animal owner’s home for at least 10 days to ensure it doesn’t show any signs of rabies. During the confinement period, the animal must:
    • not have contact with people and other animals, except for the usual household residents
    • be kept on a leash and under direct control at all times when taken out for a walk
    • not receive any vaccinations until after the confinement period has ended
    • not under ANY circumstances be released from your care or destroyed (except for humane purposes as determined by a Veterinarian)
  • If the animal involved cannot be found OR if the animal involved is a wild animal: The Public Health Inspector will work with the person who was bitten, and their physician, to ensure proper post-exposure care. This may include rabies vaccination for protection from the rabies virus.
  • If the animal involved has died: The Public Health Inspector will request that the animal undergo testing for the rabies virus. 
Information for animal owners

How to protect your pet(s) from Rabies

All dogs and cats three months of age and older must be vaccinated against rabies as required by the Rabies Immunization Regulation. Click here for a list of rabies vaccine clinics in Ontario.

  • Keep your pet away from wild animals that may carry rabies, such as raccoons, foxes and skunks
  • Supervise your pets and don’t leave them unattended outdoors
  • If your livestock will come in contact with people other than the usual caregivers (i.e petting zoos, pony rides), they must be vaccinated. Livestock includes animals such as: horses, cows, bull, steer, calf, sheep

If your pet bites/scratches someone...

  • Provide your name and contact information to the person bitten/scratched
  • A Public Health Inspector will contact you to gather information on your pet and discuss the next steps

Rabies Fact Sheet for Pet Owners

Additional resources 
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry control program is looking for samples, specifically, dead wildlife that were sick or acting strangely that have had no human or domestic animal exposure. Please note that the head and brain must be intact for it to be testable. Please call the Wildlife Health Information Line at 1-888-574-6656 or email rabies@ontario.ca.

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