How to Tell If an Animal Has Rabies

Since I wrote the article titled, “Pet Skunks: The Story of One Woman’s Wonderful Pet Skunk”, for AC, I’ve been asked how to tell if an animal has rabies. I couldn’t find an article on the site that addresses this question, so I decided to write this article so readers can instantly find the answer. (You can find the original article here:

First, Rabies is a viral disease that affects the brain and the nervous system of an animal. This disease can be spread to other animals or humans by being bit by a rabid animal. It can also be passed on by getting the rabid animal’s saliva in your eyes, nose, or mouth. Rabies can also be spread if the saliva of a rabid animal gets into a human’s or other animal’s open cut, scratch, or wound.

Fortunately, the incidents of humans getting Rabies are relatively infrequent in the United States. Domestic pets such as dogs and cats don’t “carry” this disease. They can only get it by being bitten by a rabid animal. However, wild animals such as bats, raccoons, foxes, and, yes- even skunks- are the most likely to suffer from Rabies. The Rabies disease is still a problem. Animals such as birds, gerbils, rats, mice, squirrels, guinea pigs, hamsters, chipmunks, amphibians, and reptiles never get Rabies.

According to The World Health Organization (WHO), Rabies causes more deaths in the WORLD than Polio, Meningococcal Meningitis or Japanese Encephalitis does. Approximately 50,000 human beings die from the Rabies disease every year. However, these deaths occur most often in the Indian Sub-Continent, Africa, Latin America, and in the Philippines.

So, how can you tell if an animal has Rabies? You can’t just look at an animal and tell if it has Rabies. But, there are certain symptoms that MAY point to this viral disease:

1. Rabid animals tend to stagger or move unsteadily when they try to walk.

2. They MAY be frightened by water and refuse to drink.

3. Rabid animals may slobber profusely.

4. Affected animals may be overly aggressive and try to bite. Rabid animals can also go the other way and act unusually social and tame.

5. They may experience partial paralysis that begins in the hind quarters.

6. And Rabid animals may act bewildered and confused.

The only sure way to tell if an animal has Rabies is to have it tested by a professional. Since Rabies affects the brain tissue, this area of the body has to be examined.

If you run across an animal- even a dog or a cat- that acts unusual, don’t try to touch it or get near it. Don’t try to trap it or contain it. Instead, try to get a good description of it. Call your local game warden if it’s a wild animal. If it’s a dog, you can call your local dog warden. Or, just phone your local police department and make a report about the animal.

Fortunately, the treatment of Rabies for someone who has contracted the disease isn’t as involved as it once was. And, as long as treatment is started right away, the chances of full recovery are favorable.

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