Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system. It is transmitted by a bite or saliva from a rabid animal.
Worldwide, about one person every 10 minutes dies of rabies, mostly in Africa and Asia. Although human rabies is relatively rare in the United States, where there are typically only a few cases per year, animal bites are very common. As a result, thousands of people each year receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP.
Avoid bats or animals that appear to be sick, flopping around, or behaving unusually, and keep your pets up to date on their rabies vaccinations.
Oregon State and County Law Requires Rabies Vaccination for Pets
Dogs, cats and ferrets should be vaccinated against rabies. Vaccinating pets not only protects them but it provides a “buffer zone” between humans and rabid wild animals. Oregon law requires all dogs to be vaccinated against rabies as early as three months of age. In addition, Multnomah County requires all cats to be vaccinated for rabies.
Oregon law requires that unvaccinated pets that may have been in contact with rabid animals to be vaccinated and quarantined for 4 months (dogs and cats) or 6 months (ferrets), or euthanized. The contact animal, such as a bat, is considered rabid unless it is tested and is negative.
Vaccinated dogs, cats, and ferrets exposed to a rabid animal should be revaccinated immediately, kept under the owner's control, and quarantined for 45 days. Any illness in an isolated or confined animal should be reported immediately to the local health department. If signs suggestive of rabies develop, the animal should be euthanized and tested.
A Note on Travel
Please note that if you plan to travel with your pet to other states, or out of the country, the vast majority of destinations require a current rabies vaccination in order to allow entry to your pet. The State of Oregon requires that animals over 4 months old who are entering Oregon must have a current rabies vaccination. Our Travel section has more information on these requirements.
Why It's Very Important to Vaccinate Cats
Nationally, twice as many cats as dogs are reported to have rabies each year, which is why it’s important to vaccinate your cats for rabies. Cats are natural predators and may be attracted to bats, which could be rabid. Cats come into contact with bats far more often than other pets and, if not vaccinated, may have to be euthanized after such contact.
Consider Vaccination for Horses
While the incidence of rabies is low, the disease is invariably fatal in horses. Because of this, and the risk to public health, the American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends rabies vaccinations for horses. Consult with your veterinarian about vaccination protocols for your horse.
While they can contract the disease, in the past 50+ years, no raccoons have tested positive for rabies in Oregon. Raccoons can, and do, contract canine distemper, and can display neurologic symptoms similar to rabies.
Rabies Cases in Oregon (2023)
- Clatsop County — 1 bat
- Deschutes County — 2 bats
- Multnomah County — 2 bats
- Wallowa County — 1 bat
- Yamhill County — 1 bat
If You Are Bitten
If you are bitten by any animal—even a household pet—and especially if the bite is from a wild animal, such as a bat, it is important to clean the wound and then consult with your health care provider immediately. Oregon State Law requires that animal bites be reported within one (1) working day to the Health Department in the county in which the bite occurred. The bite victim (or their parent/guardian in the case of a minor) or the attending physician shall report the bite.
If you are scratched or bitten by a bat, immediately clean the wound. If the bat has been captured, do not crush the bat or throw it away, as intact bats can be tested for rabies, which may be able to help you avoid post exposure rabies shots (PEP).
According to the law, dogs, cats or ferrets that bite humans should be quarantined for 10 days. If any other animal bites a human, euthanasia and rabies testing of the animal is recommended.
Do Not Pick Up or Touch Bats
Bats play an important role in the ecosystem, especially in controlling insects at night. They are an important insect predator; they often eat mosquitoes and can catch over 1,000 tiny insects in an hour. Bats emerge from hibernation in early spring and remain active until late fall; they are most active in warm weather.
Most often, humans are exposed to rabies by picking up a what seems to be a sick or injured bat. If you find a bat during daylight hours, it is most likely unhealthy and should be avoided.
Anyone bitten by a bat should be vaccinated for rabies immediately if the bat is not available for testing. Cats increase the risk by playing with bats and taking them into homes.
If you are scratched or bitten by a bat, immediately clean the wound. If the bat has been captured, do not crush the bat or throw it away, as intact bats can be tested for rabies, which can help you avoid post exposure rabies shots.
Every year about 10 percent of the bats tested for rabies test positive for the disease. Bats are tested for rabies only when a person or a pet has had physical contact with them.
Handling bats is not recommended, but if you must handle a bat, it should be done with sturdy gloves or an implement, such as a shovel. Direct hand contact with bats should always be avoided. Place the bat in a secure container and contact your county health authorities.
Tips to Keep Your Family Safe
- Vaccinate your pets.
- Watch wildlife from a distance. Don’t approach or attempt to handle wild animals.
- Do not feed wild animals.
- Keep garbage in secure containers and away from wildlife.
- Feed pets indoors.
- Seal openings in attics, basements, porches, sheds, barns and screen chimneys that might provide access to bats and other wildlife.
Updated: September 18, 2023