Animal Bites and Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease of the central nervous system that is almost always fatal once symptoms begin. Although it is quite rare, humans can get rabies from the bite or scratch of an infected animal.

Each year about 55,000 people in the U.S. seek out post-exposure treatment because of contact with animals suspected of being rabid.

Below you will find more information on rabies in animals and humans, how to avoid rabies,  what to do if you are exposed and other helpful resources.

Rabies in Animals

Rabies virus is carried in the saliva of infected animals and is usually transmitted to other animals and people when they are bitten or scratched by the rabid animal.

Any wild mammal can have rabies and transmit it to people. But in Indiana, the animals to be at highest risk of transmitting rabies to humans include bats, skunks, foxes, raccoons, and coyotes. Smaller mammals, such as squirrels, rabbits, rats and small rodents have not been known to cause rabies among humans. Dogs and cats can also spread rabies that they have caught from wildlife, but this is rare.

Although it is not possible to determine if an animal is infected with rabies by simple observation, there are signs that might indicate an animal is rabid.

One of the first signs is a change in behavior. A calm animal may become aggressive, or a very active animal may seem depressed. Some animals may have trouble walking or have a “dull” or “vacant” look. Rabid wild animals can lose their fear of humans, and nocturnal (active at night) animals might be seen during daylight hours.

Other signs include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Problem swallowing
  • Increase in drool/saliva
  • Unusual vocalization
  • Tremors/convulsions
  • Difficulty moving or paralysis

Rabies in Humans

The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of many other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Hypersalivation (foaming at the mouth)
  • Hydrophobia (fear of water)
  • Convulsions
  • Hallucinations

Once clinical symptoms appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive.

Rabies Prevention

The best way to prevent rabies transmission is to vaccinate your pets.  Dogs, cats, and ferrets need to be vaccinated for rabies to provide a barrier between you and the infected animal.

Other prevention methods:

  • Put identification and rabies tags on your pets.  If in Fort Wayne, you must have a permit for the animal. Walk your pet with a leash and do not let a dog or cat run loose.
  •  Avoid contact with wildlife and stray animals, especially those that are acting strangely. Do not handle sick or injured animals. Wild animals should not be kept as pets.
  • Make your home uninviting to wild animals by plugging or caulking any holes larger than a quarter-inch by a half-inch  by using chimney caps and window screens, and by ensuring that all doors to the outside close tight. Do not leave pet food outside between meal times. Keep trash in metal or hard plastic containers with tight-fitting lids.

Rabies Exposure

If an animal bite or exposure does occur, immediately wash the wound with soap and water and then seek medical attention.

Your doctor, in consultation with the Allen County Department of Health, will decide if you need a rabies vaccination. Getting vaccines after an exposure has happened but before signs develop (post-exposure prophylaxis) can prevent rabies.

Decisions to start vaccination will be based on your type of exposure, the animal you were exposed to, and if the animal can be found and held for observation or tested to rule out rabies.

If you have questions regarding rabies post-exposure treatment, contact the Department of Health at (260) 449-7920.

Animal Bite Reporting

You should report an animal bite or other potential rabies exposure to your local animal control agency. The biting animal might need to be observed or tested to make sure that you were not exposed to rabies.

In Allen County, residents should call one of the following agencies:

If you do seek medical treatment for the bite, ask your healthcare provider or the emergency room staff to fax a completed Indiana Animal Bites Report Form to the Department of Health at (260) 427-5514.

Bats and Rabies

BatBats are the animal most likely to transmit rabies in Indiana. While it is still a low percentage of bats that do carry rabies, a bat that is active during the day, is unable to fly, or is found in a place where bats are not usually seen — such as a room in your home — is more likely to be rabid. Bats present an additional concern because they have small, sharp teeth which may not leave a visible mark.

If a bat is found in the same room as a sleeping child, an elderly person, an intoxicated or a mentally-impaired person, it is important to capture the bat to have it tested for rabies.

To safely capture a bat indoors, close the windows, room and closet doors, turn on lights, and wait for the bat to land. Wearing long sleeves and heavy gloves, cover the bat with a pail, coffee can or similar container. If you spot a grounded bat outdoors, you can prevent further contact with people and pets by covering it with a pail or similar container and then calling the local animal control agency.

Nuisance Wildlife

If a wild animal is causing a nuisance around the house, there are three options the homeowner/tenant can do.

  • Leave the animal alone.  It may move on to another area.
  • Purchase a live-catch trap and place in the area where the animal is sheltering.  After capturing the animal, take great care in picking up the trap and releasing the animal at a park or in the woods a few miles away.
  • Look in the yellow pages under Pest Control and contact a private wildlife control company to remove the animal for a fee.

Dead Animal Disposal

The disposal of dead animals is governed by the Indiana State Board of Animal Health.

Educational Materials

Below are links to videos and publications related to rabies.

Rabies: Simple Steps Save Lives (AmVetMedAssn)
How to Safely Catch a Bat (NY DOH)
Animal Bites: What DVMs and Clinics Need to Know