Rabies is a rare but serious disease that can be fatal if transmitted to you or your pet. Thankfully, this deadly disease is vaccine-preventable. Here’s where it comes from, how to spot symptoms, how you can protect yourself and your pets from it, and what to do if you suspect you or your pet have become infected.

Where It Comes From

There is clear evidence of cases of rabies dating back to before 2300 BC in ancient Egypt, and Aristotle wrote extensively about rabies in dogs around 350 BC. Even thousands of years ago, humans understood that rabies transmitted via animal bites, with many cases stemming from domestic dogs biting people. Since then, the frequency of cases has spiked and fallen, but the disease has never been eradicated completely. Even with the advent of the rabies vaccine in 1885 by French scientists Louis Pasteur and Emile Roux, rabies still accounts for death every ten minutes worldwide. While most cases result from wild animal bites, about ten percent of cases are linked to bites from unvaccinated domesticated animals in countries without strict rabies laws.

rabies bat, Where Rabies Comes From And How To Keep You And Your Pets Safe

Bats, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, and foxes are the five wild animals most likely to carry the rabies virus, with a majority of cases resulting from bat bites. Contrary to popular belief, nocturnal animals being active during the day doesn’t necessarily mean they are rabid. Symptoms of rabies in wild animals include erratic behavior, difficulty walking, and stiff or paralyzed limbs.


Rabies can infect any warm-blooded animal and is a tricky virus to spot due to its long and varied incubation period. Symptoms can begin anywhere from nine days to eight weeks after a bite, and there is no way to test for the virus in a living animal. Factors that influence the incubation period include the severity and location of the wound and the state of the animal’s immune system.

aggressive dog, Where Rabies Comes From And How To Keep You And Your Pets Safe

In animals, the first symptoms that arise are typically mild and include behavioral changes including restlessness, withdrawal, and aggression. As the disease progresses, your pet will have dilated pupils and will experience frequent seizures. The final stage symptoms include salivating and paralysis.

For humans, early state symptoms are flu-like: weakness, fever, and headaches. The site of the injury may also be itchy. As the virus progresses, symptoms include cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, and agitation.

How To Protect Yourself And Your Pets

The best way to protect your pets from the rabies virus is to keep them up-to-date on their rabies vaccination. It varies by country, but most mandates require a rabies vaccine every one to three years. Other ways to protect your pet from rabies include keeping them indoors and only allowing them outdoors under your supervision and reporting any strange wildlife activity to your local animal control.

cat vaccine, Where Rabies Comes From And How To Keep You And Your Pets Safe
The next best prevention for both humans and animals is avoiding contact with wildlife. If you are bitten, make sure to clean the wound thoroughly and seek medical attention as fast as possible. Rabies is preventable only through proper medical care.

What To Do After A Bite

Even if you or your pet are vaccinated, you should always seek medical attention after a bite from a wild animal. There is still a risk of being exposed to the rabies virus. Clean the wound with antiseptic as quickly as you can and wrap the area to prevent bleeding. Don’t wait to seek treatment, and be sure to head directly to an emergency veterinarian or emergency room if the bite occurs outside your medical provider’s hours.

emergency room, Where Rabies Comes From And How To Keep You And Your Pets Safe


Rabies can be deadly to both you and your pets and should be taken very seriously. However, the disease is rare, thanks to vaccinations and information regarding it. Make sure to take proper preventative measures, like getting your pets vaccinated regularly, and avoid animals who are potentially infected. A little planning and precaution go a long way in keeping you and your pet safe from rabies.