Rabies in livestock
How livestock can get rabies, how to protect them from it and what to do if an animal is exposed to or suspected of having rabies.
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Rabies control operations
We are continuing rabies control operations to prevent the spread of terrestrial rabies and to help keep wildlife, people and pets safe.
For more information call our Rabies Information Line at
Rabies is a virus that can be transmitted, through saliva, from an infected mammal to any other mammal, including livestock, pets, wildlife and humans.
Rabies is almost always fatal and an animal will typically die within a few days after signs of rabies appear.
How livestock get rabies
Livestock can get rabies if they:
- are bitten by a rabid animal
- get saliva from an infected animal, dead or alive, in an open cut, sore or wound
- get saliva from an infected animal, dead or alive, in its eyes, mouth or nose
Even a frozen carcass can contain live rabies virus.
Cases of rabies in livestock in Ontario are most commonly reported in bovines (cows, bison and oxen). The last confirmed case of rabies in a bovine was in 2018.
Livestock that aren’t mammals, including fish and poultry, can’t get rabies.
The incubation period is the time between exposure to the rabies virus and when signs of the disease begin to appear. In livestock, usually the signs of rabies will appear less than 20 days after exposure but in some cases it can take months before the signs of rabies appear. The length of the incubation period depends on how the virus got into the animal’s body, the amount of virus that got into the animal’s body, and the strain of rabies the animal was exposed to.
If an animal gets infected with the rabies virus, it can transmit the virus to others as soon as the virus gets into its saliva. This can happen up to 2 weeks before the animal starts to show signs of rabies.
Signs of rabies
The signs of rabies in livestock can include:
- behaviour change, either:
- very aggressive or
- dull and depressed
- making strange noises (caused by spasms in the vocal chords)
- weakness in the hindquarters
Once signs of rabies appear, in any animal, the disease is virtually always fatal.
If you suspect that your farmed animal may have rabies, or if it has been bitten or scratched by a wild animal that you suspect may have rabies:
- keep it away from other livestock, pets and humans
- try to isolate it in a quiet area
- call your local veterinarian
Find out how to report sick or strange acting wildlife.
If you or another person has been in contact with the saliva of an animal you suspect may have rabies call your family doctor or local public health unit.
Learn more about rabies in humans.
Veterinarians can submit an online request to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for help with:
- risk assessments
- rabies sample submission
- post-exposure management related to potential rabies
- rabies exposures in pets or livestock
If you need help completing the online form, call Agricultural Information Contact Centre at
If an animal has rabies
If an animal suspected of rabies must be killed for safety reasons, it must be done quickly and humanely by someone who is properly trained. If you need help, contact:
- your municipal animal control department (for non-emergencies in urban areas)
- a private animal control agency in your area (for non-emergencies in urban and rural areas)
- the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society (for sick/injured animals only)
- an authorized wildlife rehabilitator (for sick/injured animals only)
- the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (for non-emergencies and advice on who to call)
- your local police force or Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) detachment (in emergency situations)
You can also contact the Ontario Fur Managers Federation for non-emergencies in rural areas.
If the animal is found dead or was killed by another animal:
- do not touch the carcass with your bare hands
- keep the carcass in a cool place, safely away from people and animals until it’s determined that it needs to be tested
- call your veterinarian if you suspect the animal had contact with your livestock or pets
- if it did not have contact with your livestock or pets, call the Rabies Information Line at 1-888-574-6656 to find out if the carcass should be tested
Reducing rabies risk in livestock
You can reduce the risk of rabies in your livestock by:
- limiting contact between your livestock and wildlife
- avoiding pasturing livestock in remote areas of your property where contact with wildlife is more likely
- cleaning up any scrap material or equipment that wildlife might use for shelter or nesting
- not leaving out food (including pet food), scraps or garbage that could attract scavengers
Learn more about rabies in wildlife.
As of July 1, 2018, under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, Regulation 567, livestock owners are legally required to have horses, cattle and sheep vaccinated for rabies in Ontario if the animals have contact with anyone other than their regular caretakers (such as horse competitions, petting zoos). Consult your veterinarian for more information about rabies vaccination recommendations and other requirements in your specific area. For more information on whether this requirement applies to your animals, contact your local public health unit.
You can discuss vaccinating your other livestock and the costs with your veterinarian.
Rabies in Ontario
There are two strains of terrestrial rabies in Ontario, fox strain and raccoon strain. Fox strain is most common in livestock, and is most commonly reported in bovines (cows, bison and oxen).
Fox strain rabies was widespread throughout Ontario from 1957 until the late 1980s. In 1989 Ontario launched its largescale rabies control program and was able to reduce the number of fox strain cases in the province by over 99%. In the late 1990s a new strain of rabies was introduced to Ontario, mid-Atlantic raccoon rabies, from the U.S. and was subsequently eliminated from the province in 2005.
In December 2015 rabies was rediscovered in Southern Ontario and the rabies control program resumed its largescale control efforts. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry works in partnership with other agencies to control rabies in Ontario. In Ontario the risk of rabies in livestock is low because we:
- control rabies in wildlife by dropping baits that contain vaccine in urban, forested and rural agricultural areas where rabies cases have recently occurred
- vaccinate pets
Wildlife vaccine baits underwent a significant safety review before being licensed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Canadian Centre for Veterinary Biologics. They are safe if consumed by domestic animals and they are not likely to pose a risk to animals with normal immune systems. If livestock come into contact with the liquid vaccine inside a bait, calling your veterinarian is recommended as a precaution.
Wildlife vaccine baits are not meant for livestock and won’t protect them from rabies. Livestock should continue to be vaccinated by their veterinarians to ensure effective rabies immunization.