Rabies is a viral disease most frequently transmitted through the bite of a rabies infected animal. It also can be transmitted by contamination of open wounds, a fresh abrasion or scratch, or the eye with virus in saliva from a rabid animal.
Symptoms of rabies in animals vary from a quiet depressed state to a furious erratic behavior pattern. Changes in behavior and temperament are early symptoms.
What to do in a Rabies Emergency
- If you are bitten by an animal, wash the wound thoroughly with plenty of soap and water. Contact a physician about medical treatment.
- If the biting animal is a domestic dog or cat, confine and isolate it. Contact a veterinarian about having the animal examined and for handling procedures.
- Wild animals suspected of having rabies should be humanely killed without damaging the brain. A veterinarian can advise on procedures to follow in delivering the animal or its head to a qualified laboratory to determine if it is rabid. Wear plastic or rubber gloves to handle the animal.
- Keep the head or carcass of the specimen in a sealed container and refrigerated with ice. Do not use dry ice and do not freeze it.
- Pets exposed to a possibly rabid animal should be confined, isolated and handled as little as possible. Contact a veterinarian for advice.
- In the event of a pet or human exposure to rabies, assistance can be obtained through the Departments of Agriculture and Health, humane societies and local and state police. If a wild animal is involved, Game Commission representatives in your area should be contacted.
Since February 13, 1987, Pennsylvanians who own or keep dogs and household cats over three months of age must have them vaccinated against rabies.
Vaccinations are mandated by the Rabies Prevention and Control in Domestic Animals and Wildlife Act that was signed into law by former Governor Dick Thornburgh on December 15, 1986.
People who violate the law could be fined up to $300. This brochure provides information to help citizens comply with the rabies law that was passed to prevent the spread of a disease that kills animals and humans.
Why this Law?
Rabies threatens the lives of humans and animals and has been spreading across Pennsylvania for more than a decade. In raccoons and skunks, the rabies outbreak is an epidemic.
Unvaccinated dogs and cats are a threat to spread the disease to humans. Dogs and cats have frequent contact with humans and with wild animals that could be infected with rabies.
Vaccinations for dogs and cats are to protect the pets, their owners and the public against rabies have always been good common sense. Since 1987, these vaccinations are also required by law.
Animals under one year of age at the time of the original vaccination must have a booster vaccination one year later and then at least every three years thereafter. Animals older than one year must have boosters at least every three years after the original vaccination.
State licensed kennel owners may administer rabies vaccine to animals they own if they are certified as qualified to do so by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Until they are certified, kennel owners must have their animals inoculated by or under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.
Enforcement of the Law
Police, state dog wardens and municipal animal control officers are charged with enforcement. Those convicted of violating the law can be fined up to $300 for each day they are in violation.
Information About the Law
Call or write the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, 2301 North Cameron Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9408 (717)783-5301. Copies of this brochure are available free of charge from the Department. The brochure is a summary of the Act; it should not be construed as the actual language of the law.
Vaccinations and Certificates
Rabies vaccinations are required for dogs and house cats over three months of age. Inoculations must be administered or supervised by a licensed veterinarian. For each animal vaccinated, the veterinarian must provide the animal's owner or keeper with a vaccination certificate. If requested, the vaccination certificate must be presented to enforcement officers as proof of compliance.