Communicable Diseases - Rabies

Communicable Disease Prevention and Control

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. The rabies virus can affect any mammal- human, pets, farm animals and wild animals. Wild animals that are most at risk to carry rabies virus include bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes. Rodents such as squirrels, mice and rats rarely become infected. In Canada, rabies is rare in humans, but is very serious. If rabies is not treated, it is almost always fatal.

The most common way to get rabies is by being bitten by an infected animal. It is also possible to get the virus if saliva or brain tissue from an infected animal enters through the eyes, nose, mouth or broken skin.

You cannot catch rabies:

  • Through contact with blood, feces (poop), or urine (pee)
  • By being sprayed by a skunk
  • By touching the fur of an infected animal
  • By seeing a bat in your home or in a cave


Do we have rabies in Nova Scotia?

There are different strains of rabies, such as bat strain and raccoon strain; however, in Nova Scotia, only the bat strain has been found in bats, two fox and a cat. Racoon strain of rabies has been found in New Brunswick, Ontario and the United States.


What are the symptoms of rabies?

Symptoms usually appear one to three months after being bitten by an infected animal.

In humans, rabies causes severe agitation, throat spasms, confusion and disorientation. Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal.

For signs and symptoms of rabies in animals please visit:


Can rabies be treated?

Rabies vaccine and antibodies can be effective at preventing the disease. These must be given before symptoms appear. Since the rabies vaccine is not routinely given to humans, you should contact Public Health:

  • If you are bitten by an animal
  • If a bat lands on you or touches you


What should I do if I’m bitten by an animal?

First treat the bite.

  • Immediately clean the wound with soap and water and flush with water for at least 15 minutes.
  • Apply rubbing alcohol or iodine to the area after
  • See a health care provider if the wound needs any further treatment.

If the animal that bit you is a pet that you know well - a dog, cat, or ferret—watch its behaviour for 10 days after the bite. If the animal is healthy and the behaviour has not changed after 10 days, then there is no risk that the bite could cause rabies. Check with a veterinarian if you are worried about the health or behaviour of the animal.

If the animal that bit you is wild, stray, feral, or if you don’t know the owner, call Public Health.


What should I do if I come in contact with a bat?

A bite may leave small marks that are hard to see, but you can only be bitten if the bat has landed on you or touched you. If a bat bites you or if you get saliva or brain tissue from a bat in your eyes, nose, or mouth, or in a wound:

  • Immediately clean the wound with soap and water and flush with water for at least 15 minutes
  • Apply rubbing alcohol or iodine to the area after.
  • Immediately contact your local Public Health office


How can I protect my pet(s) from rabies?

  • Vaccinate your pet with the rabies vaccine. This is the best protection. Remember, pets need regular booster shots.
  • Keep dogs on a leash. Don’t let pets roam freely where there are wild animals.
  • Keep unvaccinated pets indoors.
  • Contact your veterinarian if your pet may have been bitten by another animal.


How can I protect my family from rabies?

  • Vaccinate your pets.
  • Teach children never to touch wild animals or animals they do not know, even if they seem tame or friendly. “Love your own, leave other animals alone” is a good safety rule.
  • Ask permission from an animal’s owner before petting the animal.
  • Never disturb an animal that is caring for its young, sleeping or eating.
  • Keep wild animals and stray animals out of your home and cottage.
  • Never try to nurse a wild or stray animal back to health. A sick animal could have rabies.
  • Never feed wild animals.
  • Close garbage can lid tightly so you don’t attract wild animals.
  • Feed your pets inside. If you do feed them outside, remove uneaten food promptly.
  • Seal small holes and entryways where bats could enter homes, cottages and sheds.
  • Call animal control to remove stray animals from your neighbourhood.


What should I do if my pet is bitten by or comes into contact with a bat?

Contact a veterinarian. Keep rabies vaccinations up to date for cats, dogs, and other animals.


Where can I learn more about bats?

To learn more about bats, bat-proofing, and the risks and benefits of bats, visit these websites: