Keep Your Livestock Safe from Rabies

In December of 2015, the first case of raccoon-strain rabies in Ontario in over a decade was detected in the Hamilton area. Over the last year, more than 250 more cases of raccoon strain rabies have been found. In addition, three cases of fox-strain rabies were found in Perth County (2) and Huron County (1). Bat-strain rabies also remains a risk throughout Ontario. It is important for producers, pet owners and members of the public alike to be aware of the risk of rabies in their area and know what precautions to take to avoid exposure to this deadly virus, including avoiding contact with wildlife and vaccination of domestic animals.

For a map of raccoon-strain and fox-strain rabies cases in Ontario for 2016, visit: www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/food/inspection/ahw/rabieszone.htm

What is rabies?

Rabies is caused by a virus that can infect any mammal, including humans. Birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish do not get rabies. In infected mammals, the virus is found in saliva and can be spread through three main ways:

  • bites that break the skin
  • getting infected saliva in an open cut, sore, or other wound
  • getting infected saliva in the mouth, nose, or eyes

The animals that most often transmit rabies in Ontario are bats, foxes, skunks and raccoons. Once signs of rabies appear, in any animal, the disease is virtually always fatal. A series of vaccinations and treatment with rabies antibodies can prevent infection in humans in most cases if administered soon after exposure.

Signs of rabies in animals

Signs of rabies in animals are generally seen in one of two forms: dumb rabies or furious rabies.

Dumb (paralytic) rabies

  • Animals may become depressed and retreat to isolated places.
  • Signs of paralysis or paresis (i.e., partial paralysis) may be seen.
  • Head and neck paralysis may result in abnormal facial expressions, drooling, drooping head, sagging jaw, or strange vocal sounds. Cattle in particular may exhibit unusual bellowing.
  • Body paralysis usually begins in the hind limbs and spreads to the rest of the body. In acute cases in cattle the animal may present as a downer.

Furious rabies

  • Animals may display extreme excitement, aggression, or be hyper-reactive to stimulation.
  • An animal may gnaw and bite its own limbs or body.
  • Animals may attack objects or other animals (or people) for no apparent reason.
  • Bouts of furious behaviour usually alternate with periods of depression.

Exposure of a person

If you are bitten by an animal or if infectious material (such as saliva) from an animal gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, or broken skin, wash the area immediately and thoroughly with lots of soap and water. Washing immediately can greatly reduce the risk of infection.

Contact your doctor or your local public health unit immediately, as they can help determine your risk of exposure to rabies. If the risk is significant, rabies antibodies can be administered followed by a series of rabies vaccinations over 2 weeks. This treatment is very effective for preventing rabies in people if done promptly.

Exposure of a domestic animal

If one of your animals (dog, cat, cattle or other) may have been bitten or otherwise exposed to the saliva of a potentially rabid animal, or if your animal is behaving abnormally and you think it could have rabies, contact your veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian will assess the risk of rabies, and if needed will contact OMAFRA for additional assistance.

If the animal that did the biting (or the suspected rabid animal) is dead, then testing can be performed to determine the risk to other animals or people. Testing in the case of human exposures is arranged through the local public health unit. Testing in the case of domestic animal exposures is arranged through your veterinarian, with assistance from OMAFRA.

Preventing rabies

The best way to prevent rabies is to avoid contact with potentially rabid animals, or wildlife that are more likely to be carrying the virus (foxes, skunks, raccoons and bats). Dogs and cats are required to be vaccinated for rabies every 1-3 years in most parts of Ontario. There are also rabies vaccines available for livestock - if your animals are in a high-risk area where there have been recent cases of rabies, or if you have particularly valuable animals or animals that may have a lot of contact with people (e.g., show animals) talk to your veterinarian about vaccinating them for rabies.

For more information see Rabies in Ontario.


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca