Rabies – Know the Facts

Knowing the facts about zoonotic diseases is essential for both you and your companion animals. Rabies is a fatal, viral infection that enters the body through a wound or via mucous membranes. Infection most often occurs from the bite of a rabid animal. In WNC, several animals are rabies vector species, including raccoons, skunks, foxes, bobcats, bats, and woodchucks. The nervous system is affected as well as the salivary glands. It is invariably fatal and may cause a change in your animal’s attitude or behavior, disorientation, muscular incoordination, seizures or paralysis, excess salivation, fever, or the inability to swallow. All dogs and cats with a clinical infection will succumb within 7-10 days of onset of clinical signs.

Risk factors include exposure to wildlife, lack of adequate vaccination against rabies, bite or scratch wounds from unvaccinated dogs, cats, or wildlife, or exposure to aerosols in bat caves. If your companion animal exhibits any of the above signs accompanied with suspicious bite wounds or scratches, protect yourself while handling your animal and seek veterinary help immediately. If you are bitten by a suspicious animal, seek advice from your medical doctor. It is a legal requirement to contact Animal Control if you have been bitten by a suspected rabies carrier, including your own companion animal. Within Asheville City limits, call 252-1110. Outside the city in Buncombe County, call 253-1195 after hours. Animal Control will then direct you on how to proceed.

If your animal has been vaccinated against rabies and is bitten by a suspected rabies carrier, it is best to get the rabies post-exposure booster immediately. If a booster is not administered within 24 hours of the bite, Animal Control may step in and legally require quarantine of your animal.  If you were able to safely capture the suspected rabies carrier, contact Animal Control immediately to transport the animal to the WNC Diagnostic Lab 24/7 who will then send the animal to Raleigh for testing. North Carolina law requires up to date rabies vaccinations on all cats and dogs over four months of age. To reduce the risk of rabies exposure, always keep your dogs on leashes or within fenced areas or at the very least, supervised, keep your cats inside or encourage them to come in at night, and be observant of the animals around you.