About Rabies

Effect, Transmission, and Prevention

Frequently Asked Questions

What is rabies?

Rabies is a disease affecting all mammals, including man, caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system, including the brain. Symptoms may include unexplained aggression, impaired locomotion, varying degrees of paralysis, and extreme depression or viciousness. After the onset of symptoms, terminal paralysis and death are imminent.Does Massachusetts law require that my dog or cat be vaccinated for rabies?Yes.  Massachusetts law requires that dogs, cats and ferrets must be vaccinat
ed for rabies.

When should my puppy or kitten get its first rabies shot?

Massachusetts law requires that vaccinations must be administered by the time the animal is six months old. The second vaccination should be given one year after the initial vaccination.

Are booster shots necessary for rabies, and if they are, how often should my dog, cat, or ferret receive a booster shot?

Booster shots are necessary for rabies vaccines.  There are different vaccines available that are licensed for use in dogs and cats.  Some vaccines are approved for a period of one year and others for three years.  Your veterinarian can provide you with a vaccination schedule for the particular vaccine that was used for your animal.

I bought an older dog or cat, but was not given a certificate of vaccination for rabies, what should I do?

Take the animal to a veterinarian within 30 days of acquisition to have it vaccinated.

I was bitten by an animal. What should I do?

Be sure to properly clean the wound and seek medical advice.  Contact the Municipal Animal Inspector through the city or town and give the Inspector as much information as possible (e.g. owner information, where the incident happened, description of animal…).  The Animal Inspector will begin the process of locating the animal to observe it to determine if it might be infected with the rabies virus.

I was scratched by a cat. Can rabies be spread from just a scratch?

Yes.  The steps taken for a scratch would be the same as those above for a bite wound.

Additional Resources for Frequently Asked Questions

Protecting Against Rabies

What precautions should be used to protect against rabies?

There are several precautions everyone can take to avoid any possible exposures to rabies.
1. Vaccinate your pets. The cases that usually represent the highest numbers of human exposures involve rabid domestic animals. The most common domestic animal to contract rabies is the cat. None of the cats that tested positive for rabies in Massachusetts had a current vaccination. Ask your veterinarian to be sure that your animal has a current rabies vaccination.

2. Do not let your pets roam free. Humans are frequently exposed to rabies through handling a pet that has fought with a rabid animal. It is natural to want to console your animal after it has been in a fight. However, if any saliva from the rabid animal is left on your pet's fur, there is a definite risk of exposure.

3. Avoid any contact with wild animals, alive or dead. The behavior of rabid animals is unpredictable. Approaching a sick animal, no matter what condition it appears to be in, is dangerous. The rabies virus can be active after the host animal dies, but it can only be transmitted if there is direct contact. If you must handle wildlife, wear gloves.

What should I do if I see a sick animal?

Call the local police; they will either come themselves or notify the correct official. Do not attempt to contain the animal yourself. It is not uncommon for a rabid animal to attack anything: people, animals, inanimate objects, etc. Remember, avoid all contact.

How do I know if my pet is currently vaccinated?

In order to have a valid 3-year shot, the dog or cat must have a primary series of vaccinations; 2 shots, 9-12 months apart from each other. The first shot in an animal's life will normally be given at about 3 months of age. This shot is said to be effective for one year. The animal must then go back for its second shot no sooner than 9, and no later than 12 months from the date the first shot was given. If the second shot is given in that 3-month window, it will be considered effective for 3 years. Any shot given after that will also be considered effective for 3 years. Regardless of age, unless the animal has the primary series done correctly, rabies vaccinations are only considered to be effective for 1 year.

Additional Resources for Protecting Against Rabies

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