State urges pet owners to take precautions against rabies as weather warms

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HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania pet owners are being urged to vaccinate their furry friends and take other precautions to avoid rabies, according to a press release issued by the state Department of Agriculture.

Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding said that as we enter the warmer months of the year, there is greater potential for encounters with wildlife that can carry the disease.

“By avoiding contact with wild mammals and vaccinating your dogs and cats for rabies, you and your family can stay safe,” Redding said in the press release.


Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous systems of mammals — including humans — and is nearly always fatal. The incubation period for rabies in humans is generally about 3-8 weeks, but can be as short as one week — or as long as nine years.

According to the press release, exposure to rabies can occur in several ways, including:

  • a direct bite from a contagious rabid mammal,
  • a scratch from a rabid mammal that breaks the skin,
  • saliva or neural tissue from a contagious rabid animal contacting an open wound or break in the skin, or
  • saliva or neural tissue from a contagious rabid animal contacting mucus membranes, such as in the eyes, nose or mouth.

The state Department of Agriculture said that washing a bite or scratch immediately with soap and water can significantly reduce the risk of rabies.

State law requires all dogs and non-feral cats three months of age or older to be vaccinated against rabies. Booster vaccinations must be administered periodically to maintain lifelong immunity. Failure to comply with the law could result in a fine of up to $300. The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement checks for proof of vaccination as part of its statewide dog license canvassing efforts.

Pets or other domestic animals exposed to rabies are quarantined. The length of quarantine depends on the animal’s rabies vaccination status.

The Department of Agriculture urges people to avoid contact with wild animals, and take precautions to limit contact between their domestic animals and wild animals. In particular, the department says, avoid animals that appear to be acting abnormally — including feral cats. Symptoms of rabies include unusual aggression, daytime activity by nocturnal species, lethargy, drooling, and paralysis. Not all animals will display every symptom.

If you encounter an animal that you suspect may have rabies, contact your local law enforcement or Pennsylvania Game Commission office.

If you may have been exposed to the rabies virus, seek immediate medical attention.

For more information on rabies and human health, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website at and search “rabies” or call 1-877-PA-HEALTH. The department’s website also hosts information on the number of rabies cases reported per month and per year, including county-by-county breakdowns.


Source: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture