Rabies - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation

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Protect your family and your pets from this fatal disease.

Call your local County Health Department (leaves DEC website) immediately if:

  • you think a person or pet came in direct contact with a wild mammal
  • you handle a pet after it came in direct contact with a wild mammal
  • a bat was found in the living space of your home

Rabid animals can have very different behaviors, such as:

  • unusually aggressive
  • tame or dazed
  • excessive drooling, "foaming at the mouth"
  • difficulty swallowing
  • dragging the hind legs, mobility problems

Important: Nocturnal animals do come out during the day. Often. Especially when they have young to feed. This alone is not a sign of illness. Pet food, bird seed, and garbage can be powerful attractants. Weather changes also affect wildlife.

How Rabies is Transmitted

Rabies is a deadly virus that infects the central nervous system of mammals, including humans. It is most common in bats, raccoons, foxes, and skunks. Rabies is primarily transmitted by a bite. However, there is risk of infection if saliva or nerve tissue from a rabid animal gets into someone's eyes, nose, or mouth or into an open wound.

Household pets can also get exposed to rabies by interacting with the carcass of an animal that had rabies. The amount of time the rabies virus remains alive in the body of a dead animal depends primarily on the outside temperature. The virus could die within a few hours in warm weather and could stay alive for months in freezing temperatures.


The health department will determine if you need to have follow up treatment after contact with a wild mammal. Post-exposure treatment consists of an injection of human rabies immune globulin followed by a dose of rabies vaccine on the first day and then at days 3, 7, and 14 after the exposure. The treatment is highly effective. For those people in high risk jobs (veterinarians, wildlife biologists), preventive rabies vaccination is recommended and reduces the number of post-exposure vaccines required.

Consult a veterinarian for advice if your pet has come in contact with a wild mammal. You are not always going to know what your pet has been up to while outside. The best protection for both your pet and your family is for you to keep your pet current with its rabies shots. Consult your veterinarian for advice if you think your pet has had direct contact with a wild animal, dead or alive. A rabies booster vaccine may be recommended.

What to Do if You See an Animal that Appears to be Rabid

Stay away from any animal that is acting strangely, and restrain your pets to prevent interaction. Contact the police or an Environmental Conservation Officer in your region if the animal is seen in a busy area and is a threat to humans or pets.

Safe Disposal of Dead Animals

Use care when disposing of any dead animal. Wear gloves. Pick up the animal with a shovel. Then bury it (12 inches deep) or double-bag it and put it in the garbage. To kill the virus, sprinkle the ground and wash the shovel/gloves with a 10% solution of bleach in water (9 parts water, 1 part bleach).

More Information

NYS Department of Health Rabies Fact Sheet (leaves DEC website)

Visit the NYS Department of Health Rabies website (leaves DEC website) for more helpful information.