What to do when Bitten by a Dog or Cat and you Fear Rabies
Rabies is a disease that is always fatal in humans unless it is caught in time. Infected dogs and cats always die within a few days of showing symptoms. Knowing what to do when you have been bitten is very important, but have no fear, rabies is slow and won't kill you over night. This article is written with the help of my wife, Brenda Nelson, who has worked in animal shelters where they held suspected rabies cats and dogs.
Take Care of Yourself
Rabies is ONLY a risk if the bite punctured your skin, if so you must get to the hospital, or medical clinic, right away if you think you need stitches. Otherwise wash the wound out under water and follow first aid steps for disinfecting and bandaging. Bleach will kill the Rabies virus, but not if it has entered your blood stream.
Remember, Rabies is slow, you are in no immediate danger of going crazy and attacking people.
Find the Animal and Learn its History
First of all try to find any history on the animal. If it is your pet you should know its rabies vaccination history. If you are unsure, call your veterinarian who will have kept all this information on file. They will know if your pet is up-to-date on his, or her, rabies shots. If the pet is fully up to date on its rabies vaccinations your chances of it having rabies are slim, and perhaps you even know why it bit. If the pet shows any abnormal behavior, call a vet immediately and ask that the animal be placed on a rabies hold.
If the pet is not yours you must try to find the owner. Ask in your neighborhood who the pet belongs too. Contact your local animal shelter and see if anyone has left a “Lost Pet” report on that animal. If so you can get the vaccination records from them, and reunite the pet to its owner in the process.
If you cannot determine who owns the pet (and therefor cannot find its rabies vaccination history) the animal MUST be caught. If you are unsure about catching it yourself, the animal shelter should be contacted and the situation explained. In some cases they may come out and try to catch the animal, but most shelters do not have the manpower to do this. Many shelters will rent out traps, or the area may have a by-law enforcement agency that catches stray animals when they are reported as such. If you do not know who to call, phone your local veterinarian and explain the situation to them.
The Rabies Hold
Once it is caught, the cat or dog, is typically placed on a 10 day Rabies Hold. The animal is monitored during this time, and if it dies at any point, its head is removed and sent for testing, and you will be instructed to get medial attention for rabies. If after 10 days the animal is still alive, it did not have rabies.
While the pets are on hold, they are fed, and watered, but otherwise left in the special cage or kennel. This is for the safety of the staff, because although a pet might look friendly, rabies infected animals are highly unpredictable, and no chances should be taken.
The Ten Day Rabies hold may be free of charge, but the owner might face a fine for not having a pet vaccinated, for allowing it to roam, or for allowing it to bite somebody. If it bites a family member, in its own home, charges are usually not laid.
From the time you are bit the Rabies virus travels very slowly and might not reach your brain for months. As such you are not likely to start running around biting people in short course, but because it is fatal cautions need to be taken.
If it is found that you are infected you will be placed on a course of shots, not pleasant, but lots better than dying.
Rabies is not active everywhere, to date it is unknown of in Great Britain, but in areas where rabies is known it is very important that all pets be vaccinated against it and given booster shots according to their veterinarians guidelines for the area.
Rabies can be carried by many wild animals, such as skunks and raccoons so bites from them to your pet should be treated seriously. This is also a good reason why you should not try to assist an injured wild animal, and should call the authorities to do so instead.
Humans who work in contact with animals, such as veterinary staff, and shelter workers should receive rabies vaccinations, and be tested following to make sure the vaccine is active.
Most pets who bite, do so for reasons other than rabies, so having it vaccinated will at least mean it will not have to endure the rabies hold, which can be very traumatic. This is also why children need to be watched around pets at all times.
In order to get rabies the pet must have been bitten by a rabies infected animal. Or it must have eaten a rabies infected animal.
Humans have contacted (and died) from rabies by eating dog meat from dogs infected with rabies. There have been cases of this in China.