Frequently Asked Questions 

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Pets and Domestic Animals

Q: How can I protect my pet from rabies?

Answer: There are several things you can do to protect your pet from rabies. First, visit your veterinarian with your pet on a regular basis and keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all cats, dogs and ferrets. Arkansas state law requires rabies vaccination, given by a licensed veterinarian, for all dogs and cats beginning at 4 months of age.  It also requires a booster vaccination one year after the initial vaccine.  Thereafter the interval matches the vaccine used; if your veterinarian is using a one-year licensed product the vaccination is due one year later, if the vet is using a three-year licensed product, the next vaccination is due three years later.  Second, maintain control of your pets by keeping cats and ferrets indoors and keeping dogs under direct supervision. Third, spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or vaccinated regularly. Lastly, call animal control to remove all stray animals from your neighborhood since these animals may be unvaccinated or ill.

Q: Why does my pet need the rabies vaccine?

Answer: Although the majority of rabies cases occur in wildlife, most humans are given rabies vaccine as a result of exposure to domestic animals. This explains the tremendous cost of rabies prevention in domestic animals in the United States. While wildlife are more likely to be rabid than are domestic animals in the United States, the amount of human contact with domestic animals greatly exceeds the amount of contact with wildlife. Your pets and other domestic animals can be infected when they are bitten by rabid wild animals. When "spillover" rabies occurs in domestic animals, the risk to humans is increased. Pets are therefore vaccinated by your veterinarian to prevent them from acquiring the disease from wildlife, and thereby transmitting it to humans.

Q: What happens if a dog or cat bites me?

  1. Immediately wash the wound(s) well with soap and water, and apply an antiseptic. See a physician about the need for further treatment.  The Arkansas Department of Health is available to help with risk assessment for potential rabies exposure by calling 501-661-2000 or 800-462-0599.
  2. Report the bite to local authorities and to the Health Department. Your local health department may be notified by calling the Environmental Health Specialist there.

Dogs, cats, and ferrets should be quarantined for 10 days.  Depending on the circumstances of the bite and the nature of the animal involved, confinement may be required to be in a veterinary clinic, a public pound, or may be allowed to be done at home. Costs of confinement are the owner’s responsibility. If the animal is well 10 days after the bite occurred, it could not have transmitted Rabies, and may be released from quarantine.  If a dog, cat, or ferret appeared ill at the time it bit you or becomes ill during the 10 day quarantine, it should be evaluated by a veterinarian for signs of rabies and submitted for rabies testing.

You should seek medical evaluation for any animal bite. However, rabies is uncommon in dogs, cats, and ferrets in the United States. Very few bites by these animals carry a risk of rabies. If the cat (or dog or ferret) appeared healthy at the time you were bitten, it can be confined for 10 days and observed. No anti-rabies prophylaxis is needed. No person in the United States has ever contracted rabies from a dog, cat or ferret held in quarantine for 10 days.

The quarantine period is a precaution against the remote possibility that an animal may appear healthy, but actually be sick with rabies. To understand this statement, you have to understand a few things about the pathogenesis of rabies (the way the rabies virus affects the animal it infects). From numerous studies conducted on rabid dogs, cats, and ferrets, we know that rabies virus inoculated into a muscle travels from the site of the inoculation to the brain by moving within nerves. The animal does not appear ill during this time, which is called the incubation period and which may last for weeks to months. A bite by the animal during the incubation period does not carry a risk of rabies because the virus is not in saliva. Only late in the disease, after the virus has reached the brain and multiplied there to cause an encephalitis (or inflammation of the brain), does the virus move from the brain to the salivary glands and saliva. Also at this time, after the virus has multiplied in the brain, almost all animals begin to show the first signs of rabies. Most of these signs are obvious to even an untrained observer, but within a short period of time, usually within 3 to 5 days, the virus has caused enough damage to the brain that the animal begins to show unmistakable signs of rabies. As an added precaution, the quarantine period is lengthened to 10 days.

For more information on recommendations about biting incidences, quarantine, and postexposure prophylaxis (PEP), see:

Q: What happens if my pet (cat, dog, ferret) is bitten by a wild animal?

Answer: Any animal bitten or scratched by either a wild, carnivorous mammal or a bat that is not available for testing should be regarded as having been exposed to rabies. Unvaccinated dogs, cats, and ferrets exposed to a known rabid animal should be euthanized immediately. If the owner is unwilling to have this done, Arkansas state law requires the animal be placed in strict isolation for 6 months and vaccinated 1 month before being released. Animals with expired vaccinations need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Dogs and cats that are currently vaccinated are kept under observation for 90 days.

Q: Can Rabies be transmitted by a secondary object? 

Answer: Rabies has never been transmitted from a secondary object such as the ground where a rabid animal was lying.  Tools used in picking up the animal or a stick used to push an animal into a bag, for example, should NOT be considered dangerous once any saliva present has dried.  It would be sensible to use precautions such as wearing gloves when handling a suspect rabid animal’s body, or to take precautions to prevent saliva from contacting the eyes or mouth.

Q: Do all animals show the same symptoms?

Answer: No. Animals may appear to be either “dumb” or “furious”, depending on how the infection affects their brain.

Q: What are some of the symptoms of “dumb” Rabies?

Answer: Drooping jaw; salivating; appearance of choking; less active than usual; seeking affection or avoiding people; progressive paralysis and death within 5 days.
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Q: What are some of the symptoms of “furious” Rabies?

Answer: Highly excitable and restless; changes in personality; hiding in dark places; refusing food; trying to break out; snapping at most moving objects; eating sticks and stones.

Q: I am moving to a rabies-free country and want to take my pets with me. Where can I get more information?

Answer: The details of regulation about importing pets into rabies-free countries vary by country. Check with the embassy of your destination country or contact USDA/APHIS which regulates importation and exportation of animals in the United States.  More information is available at: 

Q: Where should animal heads be sent for Rabies testing?

Answer: Specimens should be sent to the Arkansas Department of Health Public Health Laboratory at 302 S. Monroe St., Little Rock.

The head of the animal suspected to be infected with the rabies virus must be removed before submission to the laboratory. Do not shoot or damage the animal head in any form as it may result in rejection of the specimen. It is recommended that a veterinarian remove the animal’s head. Whole animals are not acceptable. After removal of the head, the head must remain refrigerated, not frozen, until the laboratory can process the specimen.

Specimens can be taken to a local health unit for submission. The local health units for each county are responsible for shipment of the animal head to the laboratory. ADH courier service is provided for all health units in the state and will pick up rabies specimens for delivery to the laboratory. Each health unit should have shipping containers consisting of an insulated bucket (secondary container) containing a gel pack, watertight zip lock bag (primary container) and a rabies submission form. Gel packs should be frozen prior to submission to keep the specimen cool during transport. Wet ice or dry ice should not be used.

Rabies samples may be hand delivered to the laboratory or shipped by UPS or through the ADH courier service that serves all of the county health units. The laboratory is not responsible for transport of the specimen. It is the responsibility of the submitting agency, health unit, veterinarian or individual to ensure that the specimen integrity is preserved during shipment. If received in an unsatisfactory condition, the laboratory may reject the specimen.

Large animals such as cows should be taken to the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission (ALPC) for removal of the head and preparation for testing, although a nominal fee is charged for disposal of the carcass and transportation of the specimen to the laboratory. Their phone number is 501-907-2430.

Q: I submitted a specimen to the laboratory for testing and the laboratory did not test it. Why was my specimen rejected?

Answer: Samples that are decomposed, damaged or formalinized are unsuitable for testing. Do not shoot or damage the animal head in any form. A correctly submitted specimen must also possess the three following parts of the brain tissue of the animal: brain stem, hippocampus and cerebellum.

Decomposed specimens are rejected because bacteria in the tissue can interfere with the test. The test is called a DFA (direct fluorescent antibody). It is a test in which the brain tissue is mounted on a slide and observed under the microscope. If the rabies virus is present it will fluoresce on the slide and produce an apple-green color visible with a fluorescent microscope. Bacteria can interfere with this process. Also, decomposed brain tissue sections are difficult to distinguish from other parts of the brain.

Damaged specimens that arrive at the lab are tested by removing any or all of the required sections that are still intact. If the result is negative, the sample is rejected because a correct result cannot be reported without all three sections of the brain. If the result is positive, the sample is reported as positive.

In summary, do not shoot or damage the animal’s head and keep the head refrigerated at all times after removal from the animal’s body until it can be tested at the laboratory. This will preserve the integrity of the specimen.

Q: How long does it take to get a result?

Answer: If the specimen is received before 9:00 am on a given day, results should be ready by the end of the working day at 4:30 pm. If received after 9:00 am, the specimen is tested the next working day unless the situation is an emergency. If for some reason, the test fails, the specimens will be retested the following day.

Results are called directly to the submitting facility by the laboratory’s administrative area or by the analyst conducting the test. If a result is positive, the public health veterinarian will contact the submitter as well as anyone with an exposure to the animal, so that proper treatment can be administered to the exposed.

Q: What is considered an emergency situation?

Answer: Face-bites to a human being from a suspected infected animal are considered emergency situations and the laboratory may be asked to test the suspected animal. A family physician should be notified immediately as well as the ADH Zoonotic Disease section. If bitten on the face, seek help as quickly as possible.

Q: Is there a fee for the rabies virus test?

Answer: No, the laboratory does not charge for the rabies virus test. It is offered as a public health service to the community. Veterinarians may charge for removal of the head and for transportation costs for submission to the rabies laboratory. Arkansas Livestock and Poultry also charges to remove brain tissue from large animals and for disposal of the carcass and transportation of the specimen to the laboratory. The laboratory is not responsible for any charges.

Animal Rabies Compendium