The information on this page is for use by veterinary personnel. For information on what to do if you or your domestic animal has potentially been exposed to rabies, see If you suspect rabies.

Overview

Transmission of rabies virus occurs when virus-laden saliva of a rabid animal is introduced by a bite, scratch, or other break in the skin (or rarely, through intact mucous membranes). An infected animal may shed rabies virus in saliva for a short period prior to developing clinical signs of disease (accepted maximum of 10 days for dogs, cats and ferrets).

Situation specific protocols

  • Potential exposure of a human

    Who to contact

    Find contact information for Alberta Health Services – Public Health and First Nations and Inuit Health on the ABVMA member page under Practice Resources: Rabies Exposure.

    What to do

    1. If a person has been bitten by an animal, or has come into contact with a bat or a potentially rabid animal, advise victim to do the following:
    • wash the bite, scratch, or open wound with soap and water for at least 5 minutes
    • contact their doctor, local public health office or Health Link at 811 for a risk assessment
    1. If a cat, dog, or ferret is presented for euthanasia less than 10 days after biting a human, the veterinarian must not euthanize the animal without authorization from a local medical officer of health or designate.
    • You may contact Alberta Health Services – Public Health to discuss the case. If the individual bitten lives on reserve, contact First Nations and Inuit Health.
    • If a delay in euthanasia will result in avoidable animal suffering, examine the animal for clinical signs of rabies (to the extent possible) and then proceed with euthanasia. You must then promptly report the case to Alberta Health Service – Public Health or First Nations and Inuit Health and maintain and preserve the body in the clinic until it is determined whether it will be tested for rabies.
    • In order to ensure appropriate follow-up, you should also report a bite or other exposure if you are concerned that it will not be managed appropriately by the parties involved. For example, if you become aware of human-bat contact that has not been reported to public health.

    Manage exposures (such as bites) of veterinary clinic staff or clients in the same manner as community exposures. See also Vaccination of veterinary personnel.

  • Clinical signs of rabies disease in an animal

    Rabies in domestic animals – is a provincially reportable disease in Alberta. If a domestic animal has clinical disease suspected to be caused by rabies virus, Alberta Rabies Program staff must be notified within 24h.

    Rabies in wildlife – is a provincially notifiable disease in Alberta. Visit If you suspect rabies for information about reporting potentially rabid wildlife.

  • Potential exposure of a domestic animal

    A domestic animal may be exposed to rabies if it has:

    • come into contact with a live or dead bat
    • been bitten by a wild animal
    • been bitten by a domestic animal displaying abnormal behaviour

    If a domestic animal is presented to a veterinary practice after a potential rabies exposure, follow the steps below:

    1. Perform wound decontamination and other patient care if indicated.
    2. Gather information on the exposure event:
    • document event details such as offending species and any observations of their health and behaviour, location, time of day, circumstances, other animals involved, and outcome for the offending animal
    • determine the category of rabies risk posed by the offending animal (see below)
    1. Determine the rabies vaccination status of the exposed animal(s).
    2. Administer post-exposure rabies vaccination (see Figure 1 below).
    • After a high- or moderate-risk exposure:
      • Post-exposure vaccination must occur promptly. Delays of greater than 96 hours from the time of exposure may affect the need for or duration of quarantine.
      • Administer rabies vaccination, even if the exposed animal is fully/currently vaccinated against rabies. If the animal has had at least 2 prior rabies vaccinations administered according to the manufacturer’s directions and the most recent vaccination was within 30 days of the exposure event, a booster vaccination is not required.
      • Vaccinate against rabies even if the exposed animal is less than 12 weeks of age. An additional vaccination will be required after 12 weeks of age in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions.
    • After a low-risk exposure:
      • Vaccinate within 96 hours if the animal is out-of-date or unvaccinated.
    1. Preserve the offending animal carcass (if applicable) in case testing is required
    • Rabies Program staff will typically arrange testing of available carcasses for high- and moderate-risk exposures if the exposed animal is unvaccinated or out-of-date (depending on the number of prior rabies vaccinations and when they were last vaccinated).
    1. Inform and advise the owner about rabies
    • Discuss risks, routes of exposures, vaccination, clinical signs and incubation period.
    • Request that the owner contact a veterinary clinic or the Alberta Rabies Program if they observe signs of disease in their animal.
    • Rabies prevention and control is available as a resource.
    1. Report all high- and moderate-risk exposures to domestic animals to the Alberta Rabies Program:

    Risk of rabies exposure in Alberta based on species and behaviour of the offending animal

    High-risk

    • bat
    • any animal exhibiting abnormal behaviour or disease (regardless of species)

    Moderate-risk

    • carnivore, raccoon or skunk with no indications of abnormal behaviour or disease

    Low-risk

    • non-carnivorous mammal except raccoon or skunk (e.g., muskrat, beaver) with no indications of abnormal behaviour or disease
    • domestic animal with no indications of abnormal behaviour or disease; risk can be further assessed in these situations by determining the vaccination status of the offending animal and requesting the owner to report any signs of disease in the offending animal that occur within 10 days of the incident

    Rabies program staff use these categories of risk for the management of domestic animals potentially exposed to rabies in Alberta. Human exposure assessment is managed by public health under the guidance of the Medical Officer of Health. Potential human exposures are to be reported as indicated in the section above: Potential exposure of a human.

    These categories reflect the risk of rabies virus transmission from offending species to domestic animals in Alberta only; they do not apply to other jurisdictions. Bats are currently the only rabies reservoir in Alberta. Spillover of rabies virus from bats to other species does occur, but it is much less common than in jurisdictions where the virus is maintained in foxes, skunks or raccoons. For more information, see Rabies in animals.

    Abnormal behaviour or signs of disease

    Consider the following when evaluating the behaviour of a wild animal that has bitten a domestic animal:

    • whether the time of day and location of the encounter were unusual for the species involved
    • the animal’s mentation, movement and general appearance
    • whether the encounter was provoked (for example, did the offending animal attack or was it defending itself)
    • the duration of the encounter and whether the offending animal attempted to escape

    If the offending animal has died, the condition of the carcass (for example, body condition, hair coat, presence of wounds) may provide indications of its health prior to death. If the interaction was not observed, it may also provide indication of the time since death, which is particularly relevant when a pet finds a dead bat. Maintain the carcass in case testing is required. Appropriate protective equipment, including gloves, should be worn if the carcass must be handled.

    Figure 1. Rabies Vaccination after Exposure Decision Tree


    Flow chart showing rabies post exposure vaccine decision tree

    After reporting a domestic animal exposure

    The following pertain to high- and moderate-risk exposures of domestic animals.

    • Fully vaccinated cats, dogs and ferrets that receive a booster vaccine within 96 hours after exposure will not require quarantine.
    • Cats, dogs and ferrets that are unvaccinated or do not receive a booster vaccination. promptly after exposure may require a 3- to 6-month quarantine as determined by Alberta’s Public Health Veterinarian:
      • if the offending animal is available, the test result will direct case management
      • if the offending animal is not available or the sample is determined to be unfit for testing, the need for and duration of quarantine will be determined based on a risk assessment conducted by the Public Health Veterinarian
    • Animals that are overdue for rabies booster vaccination will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
    • Management and quarantine following exposure of other domestic animals will depend on the species involved and their intended use.

Handling and submission of samples

  • Alberta Rabies Program staff will do one of the following:
    • arrange for carcass pick-up (depending on location and staff availability), or
    • provide the rabies submission form and detailed instructions on how to collect, package and ship the sample to the rabies laboratory at the CFIA National Center for Animal Diseases outside Lethbridge, Alberta. Information will also be provided to invoice Alberta Agriculture and Forestry for clinic services directly related to collection and submission
  • Inform Rabies Program staff if additional diagnostics are planned prior to submission. Samples cannot be returned once they enter the CFIA rabies laboratory.
  • Please do not submit rabies samples to the CFIA laboratory without prior coordination with Rabies Program staff.
  • Rabies suspect animals and samples should be handled by vaccinated individuals wearing appropriate protective equipment. For example, wear gloves and facial protection during necropsy procedures.
  • Carcasses/samples should be maintained between 2 and 6oC. Refrigeration is ideal, but the use of ice packs with or without a cooler can also be considered. Freezing will not damage the sample, but may delay testing if still frozen upon arrival at the lab. Please avoid freezing if possible, unless directed to do so by Rabies Program staff.
  • Maintain sample integrity and biosafety by using leak-proof, sealed containers and double bagging the carcass or samples.

More information on rabies sample collection and personal protective equipment is available from the University of Guelph Animal Health Laboratory.

Vaccination of veterinary personnel

Veterinary clinic employees are eligible for provincially funded rabies vaccination. For information about how to access vaccination, see Rabies Prevention.

Following vaccination, your anti-rabies antibody titer should be assessed every 2 years. Speak to your community public health office or physician to obtain a laboratory requisition for the necessary testing.

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