Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system. It can infect any warm-blooded bird or mammal, including humans. Rabies is nearly always deadly if not treated before symptoms begin.
Transmission of rabies virus occurs when virus-laden saliva of a rabies-infected animal is introduced by a bite, scratch, or other break in the skin (or rarely, through intact mucous membranes). Saliva may become infectious a few days prior to the animal showing signs of disease.
All mammals can be infected with and transmit rabies virus. Bats are the most important source of rabies in Alberta. While the overall prevalence of rabies in free-flying bats is low, always consult a medical professional if you or your pet come into direct contact with a bat. See domestic and human exposure below.
Find out about signs of rabies in animals, as well as how it is diagnosed and how it spreads.
Internationally and federally, rabies in humans is a notifiable and reportable disease. In Alberta, rabies in humans and animals is regulated under the following laws:
Testing and surveillance
Alberta's rabies testing and surveillance program coordinates the testing of animal samples in response to a human or domestic animal exposure, when an animal dies or is euthanized with signs suggestive of rabies, and for the purpose of surveillance in striped skunks.
Domestic animal exposure
Rabies in domestic animals is a provincially reportable disease under the Animal Health Act. It requires immediate action to protect animals and public health.
A domestic animal may be exposed to rabies if they experience any of the following:
- come into contact with a live or dead bat
- are bitten by a wild animal
- are bitten by a domestic animal that is acting strangely
If you suspect a pet or other domestic animal has been exposed to rabies, call your veterinarian within 24 hours.
Domestic animals exposed to a potentially rabid animal should receive a rabies vaccine as soon as possible, even if they have been previously vaccinated for rabies. Every effort should be made to ensure this vaccine is given within 96 hours of the exposure.
Rabies infection in humans is a provincially notifiable communicable disease under the Public Health Act.
For more information on rabies and public health, see Rabies (MyHealth.Alberta.ca).
What to do
If you are bitten by an animal, or if you come into contact with a bat or a potentially rabid animal:
- Wash the bite, scratch, or open sore with soap and water for at least 5 minutes.
- Contact your doctor, your local public health office or Health Link at 811 right away. They can advise you on what to do next.
Bats in your home
Contact health authorities if you come into direct contact with a bat, or find a bat in the living space of your home and are uncertain if anyone was bitten or scratched. For example:
- if a bat is found in a young child’s room
- if the person involved is unable to give a reliable account due to intoxication, cognitive impairment or other causes
Bat bites may be painless and often do not leave a mark, which can make them hard to detect.
If you suspect a bat in your home has had direct contact with a person or pet, have a pest control company or a responsible person safely and gently catch it for possible rabies testing.
If you are confident no human or pet was exposed, one option is to close all windows in the room except those leading outside. The bat usually leaves on its own.
For more information on what to do if you encounter a bat, including how to safely capture a bat in your home, visit:
Reporting rabies in wildlife
Rabies in wild animals is a provincially notifiable disease under the Animal Health Act.
If you see potentially rabid wildlife in any of these situations, contact:
- National park or any lands under federal jurisdiction, contact the RCMP or one of the following:
- Provincial park, recreation area or reserve – contact Parks Alberta
- Unoccupied crown land – contact Fish and Wildlife
- Urgent wildlife situations (involving a large carnivore including a bear, wolf or cougar) – contact Fish and Wildlife
- Urban or rural municipality – contact the municipality
Connect with the Alberta Rabies Program if you have a rabies-related question: