Rabies prevention

Vaccination is the safest and most effective way to protect people and animals from the rabies virus.

Wild and stray animals

  • Observe all wild animals from a distance. A rabid wild animal may appear tame, but don't go near it.
  • Teach children never to handle wild or stray animals, or animals they do not know, even if the animals appear friendly.
  • Never keep wild animals as pets. Wild animals can cause injury or transmit diseases such as rabies to caretakers and to other people and domestic animals.
  • Report potentially rabid wildlife to the appropriate authority
  • Never touch a bat with bare hands. Bats will bite to defend themselves and any physical handling on bare skin puts you at risk, and may result in the euthanasia of the bat for rabies testing. For information, see Bats and rabies.
  • If you think a wild animal needs help, see Orphaned or injured wildlife.

Vaccination of animals

Have your veterinarian vaccinate your pets against rabies. Your veterinarian will advise you on the timing and frequency of vaccination.

Pre-exposure vaccination

Rabies vaccination in animals is the best way to protect against the virus. Even though rabies prevalence is very low in Alberta, a potential exposure can occur at any time. Given their size and agility, bats in particular can show up in unexpected places, such as inside houses, outbuildings and backyards. Most bats that enter buildings are simply lost, but you should always consult a medical professional if you or your pet come into direct contact with a bat.

The rabies vaccine is safe and efficacious in protecting pets from the rabies virus and, by extension, their owners and the public. The occurrence of rabies in an appropriately vaccinated animal is extremely rare, so the management of vaccinated pets after a rabies exposure is simple compared to an unvaccinated pet.

Infection of livestock with rabies virus is far less common in Alberta than in areas where the virus is maintained in foxes, skunks or raccoons. However, vaccination of livestock may still be advised, particularly for animals that have routine contact with the public or that travel outside of the province. Consult with your veterinarian for further information.

Post-exposure vaccination

If you suspect a pet or other domestic animal has been exposed to rabies, call your veterinarian within 24 hours.

All domestic animals potentially exposed to rabies should receive a rabies vaccine as soon as possible, even if they have been previously vaccinated. Every effort should be made to ensure this vaccine is given within 96 hours of the exposure.

Through the Alberta Rabies Program, the Public Health Veterinarian directs the management of domestic animals after a potential rabies exposure. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Fully vaccinated cats, dogs and ferrets: if they receive an additional booster vaccine within 96 hours after exposure, they 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. Animals typically remain with their owner during the quarantine period
  • Other domestic animals: requirements following exposure differ by species and intended use
  • Animals that are overdue for rabies booster vaccinations: will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the Alberta Public Health Veterinarian

Even if a pet has been vaccinated against rabies, bites to people must be reported to public health authorities for appropriate risk assessment and follow-up. See If you suspect rabies – Human exposure.

Imported pets require vaccination. Learn more with this video from the Ontario Animal Health Network.

Vaccination of people

Pre-exposure vaccination

Preventive rabies vaccination may be recommended if you are at high risk of animal bites or other exposures because of your work or hobbies. It may also be recommended if you plan to travel in areas where rabies is a risk. People who work in high-risk occupations may be eligible for provincially funded vaccination. For more information see rabies vaccination.

For those at continued risk, the level of antibodies in your blood (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.

For more information, see Travel Health Services.

Post-exposure prophylaxis

The treatment for someone who has been exposed to rabies is a series of injections known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). This includes vaccination against rabies virus and may include administration of rabies immunoglobulin (antibodies against rabies).

Report potential rabies exposures to public health even if you have been previously vaccinated against rabies, as additional doses may be required to maximize protection. The graph below shows the number of people who received rabies post-exposure prophylaxis in Alberta from 2018 to 2022.

For more information, see Rabies – MyHealth.Alberta.ca.

Table 1. Number of people receiving rabies post-exposure prophylaxis in Alberta by month of initiation, 2019 to 2023

Graph of the number of people receiving rabies post-exposure prophylaxis in Alberta by month of initiation

Source: Data provided by Alberta Health based on immunization records

Table notes:

  • Some individuals received rabies vaccination but not immunoglobulin (for example, if they had previously been vaccinated against rabies).
  • Numbers represent courses of rabies post-exposure prophylaxis initiated in humans. Treatment may have been discontinued after one or more doses if indicated (for example, based on the offending animal testing negative for rabies).