Rabies in pets
How pets get rabies, what do to if your pet is exposed and what you need to know about the rabies vaccine.
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Wildlife Health Information Line
- sick or strange-acting wildlife
- rabies in Ontario
- the oral rabies vaccine bait
- how to report a suspected rabid animal
- what we are doing to control terrestrial rabies
Rabies control operations
We are preventing the spread of terrestrial rabies to help keep wildlife, people and pets safe. Learn how we control rabies, including the annual operations schedule and operations map on our rabies control operations page.
How pets get rabies
Rabies is caused by a virus found in the saliva of infected mammals. Rabies can infect any mammal, including humans, pets, wildlife and livestock.
Your pet can get rabies if:
- it is bitten by a rabid animal
- it gets saliva, brain or spinal tissue from an infected animal, dead or alive, in an open cut, sore, wound, eyes, mouth or nose
Even a frozen carcass (dead animal) can contain live rabies virus. However, the virus does not survive well in the environment when:
- it dries out
- it is exposed to sunlight
In Ontario, the risk that your pet will get rabies is low because:
- cats, dogs and ferrets must be vaccinated
- we control rabies in terrestrial (non-bat) wildlife
- we test dead, sick and strange acting wildlife
Signs of rabies
The signs of rabies in pets include:
- change in behaviour, such as becoming:
- more quiet or depressed
- unusually friendly when normally timid
- more aggressive toward people, animals, objects or its own body
- difficulty eating or drinking, or loss of appetite
- barking or meowing differently
- drooling more than usual
- biting the site of the wound where your pet was exposed to rabies
- overreacting to touch, sound or light
- lack of coordination, staggering or falling
- becoming partially or completely paralyzed (unable to move)
Once a pet shows signs of rabies, it will usually die within 7 to 10 days.
The incubation period is the time between when an animal is exposed to the rabies virus and when signs of rabies begin to appear.
Most pets will show signs of rabies within 3 weeks to 3 months of being exposed to the virus. Sometimes signs of rabies can take months to 1 year or longer to appear. This depends on:
- how the virus got into your pet’s body
- the amount of virus that entered your pet
- the strain (type) of rabies your pet was exposed to
If your pet gets infected with the rabies virus, it can transmit rabies to other pets and humans as soon as the virus gets into your pets’ saliva.
This can happen up to 10 days before your pet starts to show signs of rabies.
If your pet may have rabies
If you think your pet has rabies or if your pet came into contact with an animal showing signs of rabies:
- put your pet in a quiet, dark area by itself
- keep your pet away from people and other animals
- call your veterinarian right away
If your pet has bitten you or another person, call your local public health unit immediately.
Talk to your veterinarian
Your veterinarian will ask you for information to figure out if your pet may have been exposed to rabies.
Your veterinarian may recommend vaccinating your pet within 7 days even if your pet already has all of its shots if:
- they find that your pet may have had a high-risk exposure to a potentially rabid animal
- the animal your pet was exposed to can’t be found and tested for rabies
- the animal your pet was exposed to tested positive for rabies
Confine your pet
If your pet may have been exposed to rabies, it needs to be observed (watched) or confined (isolated).
Your pet may be able to stay in your home during the confinement period if you can make sure it doesn’t come into contact with other animals and people.
If your pet’s rabies vaccinations:
- are up to date before it was exposed, and it is revaccinated within 7 days, it needs to be observed at home for 45 days
- are not up to date before it was exposed, it needs to be revaccinated as soon as possible and then confined for 3 to 6 months
Talk to your veterinarian about the rules for observation or confinement of your pet.
Test for rabies
You can only test for rabies after the potentially infected animal dies or is euthanized.
If your pet is at risk for rabies from contact with a potentially infected animal, your veterinarian may be able to arrange testing of the animal in co-ordination with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Public health units can arrange for testing of the animal when a person is at risk.
Rabies vaccines used in Canada protect pets from all strains of rabies.
In Ontario, your cat, dog or ferret must be vaccinated for rabies as soon as it is 3 months old. Even indoors pets need to be vaccinated.
After your pet is vaccinated the first time, your pet must
- get a booster shot within 1 year of the date it was vaccinated
- then be vaccinated for rabies every 1 to 3 years depending on the type of vaccine your veterinarian uses
You must keep your pet’s rabies vaccine up-to-date for its entire life.
You could be fined if your pet isn’t vaccinated for rabies.
Contact your local veterinarian to get your pets vaccinated.
Controlling rabies in wildlife
To help keep wildlife, people, and pets safe, we control rabies in terrestrial (non-bat) wildlife by:
- distributing baits for wildlife that contain rabies vaccine in urban, forested and rural agricultural areas
- live trapping and vaccinating wildlife by hand in high risk areas
- testing dead, sick or strange acting wildlife
- conducting research to improve rabies control program effectiveness
Oral rabies vaccine for wildlife
The oral rabies vaccine bait had a significant safety review before it was licensed for distribution.
Oral vaccine baits are not meant for pets. You should continue to get your pets vaccinated by a veterinarian to make sure your pet is immunized against rabies.
If a pet such as a cat or dog eats a wildlife vaccine bait, the bait is not likely to pose a risk if the pet has a normal immune system. However, your pet may experience digestive upset from the wax coating on the bait.
Travel to the United States
If you are travelling to the United States with your dog, you need an up-to-date vaccination certificate signed by your veterinarian to enter the U.S. and return to Canada.
If your dog is less than 4 months old, it will not be admitted into the United States, because:
- it cannot be properly vaccinated for rabies until it is 3 months old
- you must wait 30 days after your dog is vaccinated for the first time before you can cross the border
In some parts of the U.S., the risk of your pet being exposed to rabies may be higher than in Ontario.
Other countries and other kinds of pets may have different requirements for rabies vaccination. Check your destination’s requirements and speak with your veterinarian before traveling.
Information for veterinarians
Veterinarians can submit an online request to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for help with:
- rabies exposure risk assessments in pets or livestock
- sample submission for rabies testing
- post-exposure management related to potential rabies exposure
If you need help completing the online form, call Agricultural Information Contact Centre at
The contact centre is open from Monday to Friday, between 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.