The Ontario government is continuing rabies control operations to prevent the spread of rabies and to help keep wildlife, people and pets safe.

Find out more about how we are protecting Ontario and the 2022 rabies control operations.

Overview

Rabies is a virus that can be transmitted, through saliva, from an infected mammal to any other mammal, including livestock, pets, wildlife and humans.

Non-mammals, including fish, poultry, birds, reptiles, and amphibians (e.g. frogs and toads) can’t get rabies.

Rabies is almost always fatal. Once signs of rabies appear, the animal will die, typically within a few days.

How pets get rabies

Your pet can get rabies if it:

  • is bitten by a rabid animal
  • 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 can contain live rabies virus.

Incubation period

The incubation period is the time between exposure to the rabies virus and when symptoms of the disease begin to appear.

Most pets will show signs of the disease within 2 weeks of being exposed to the virus, but in some cases, signs may take many months to appear. This depends on how the virus got into your pet’s body, the amount of virus that entered your pet and the strain of rabies your pet was exposed to.

Infection period

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 its saliva. This can happen up to 10 days before your pet starts to show signs of rabies.

If you or another person may have been exposed to rabies, call your local health unit.

Symptoms of rabies

The symptoms of rabies in pets include:

  • behaviour change, either:
    • more quiet or depressed
    • unusually friendly when normally timid
    • more aggressive toward people, animals, objects, even its own body
  • loss of appetite or difficulty eating or drinking
  • barking or meowing differently
  • drooling excessively
  • biting the site of the wound where the animal was exposed to rabies
  • overreacting to touch, sound or light
  • staggering or falling
  • becoming partially or completely paralyzed (unable to move)

Once a pet shows symptoms, it will usually die within 7-10 days.

My pet may have rabies

If you suspect your pet already has rabies:

  • put your pet in a quiet, dark area by itself
  • call your veterinarian right away.
  • keep your pet away from people or other animals
  • if your pet has bitten you or another person, call your local public health unit

If you suspect your pet has come into contact with a rabid animal, call your local veterinarian.

He or she will ask for information to help determine if your pet may have been exposed.

Your veterinarian may vaccinate your pet within 7 days (even if your pet already has all of its shots) if:

  • he or she finds that your pet may have been exposed to rabies
  • the animal your pet was exposed to can’t be found and tested for rabies
  • tests show the animal your pet was exposed to does have rabies

Confining your pet

If your pet may have been exposed to rabies, it needs to be observed or confined. 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, it needs to be observed at home for 45 days
  • are not up-to-date before it was exposed, it needs to be confined for 3-6 months

Talk to your vet about the rules for observation or confinement.

Testing for rabies

You can’t test for rabies until the infected animal dies or is euthanized.

Testing can be arranged through your veterinarian in co-ordination with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

For veterinarians

If you need help assessing, managing or testing a potentially rabid or exposed pet, livestock or wild animal, contact OMAFRA’s Agricultural Information Contact Centre (AICC) at 1-877-424-1300.

Rabies vaccine

In most parts of Ontario, your cat or dog must be vaccinated for rabies as soon as it is 3 months old and must be kept up-to-date for its entire life.

After your pet is vaccinated the first time, it must get a booster shot within 1 year of the date they were vaccinated. After that, your pet must be vaccinated for rabies every 1 to 3 years depending on the type of vaccine your veterinarian uses. Rabies vaccines used in Canada protect pets from all strains of rabies in North America.

You could be fined if your pet isn’t vaccinated for rabies.

Even indoor cats need to be vaccinated.

Check with your local health unit for the vaccination rules in your area and contact your local veterinarian to have your pet(s) vaccinated. Learn more about the rabies immunization rules

Reducing rabies risk

Don’t allow your pet to wander freely unsupervised, especially at night when bats, foxes, raccoons and skunks are most active, as these animals are the primary carriers of rabies in Canada.

Learn more about rabies in wildlife.

Wildlife vaccine baits

Descriptive transcript: What to do if my pet accidentally eats a bait

Ontario controls rabies in wildlife by dropping baits that contain the rabies vaccine in urban, forested and rural agricultural areas. Baits are dropped for wildlife if rabies is detected in the area in the current or previous year.

Vaccine baits are not meant for pets and won’t protect them from rabies. Pets should continue to be vaccinated by their vets to ensure effective rabies immunization.

Download Rabies vaccine bait information (PDF)

Learn more about wildlife control program.

Travel to the United States

If you’re 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.

You must wait 30 days after your dog is vaccinated before you can cross the border.

If your dog is less than 4 months old, it won’t be admitted into the United States.

In some parts of the U.S., the risk of your pet being exposed to rabies may be higher than in Ontario.

Other pets may have different requirements. Check your destination’s requirements and/or speak with your veterinarian before traveling.

Learn more about the rules for bringing a dog into the United States.

Risk of rabies

The last reported case of rabies in a pet in the province was in 2022, when rabies was found in a dog in Toronto which was imported from Iran.

The risk that your pet will get rabies is lower today than it has been in the past because we:

  • control rabies in wildlife
  • vaccinate pets

In Ontario, rabies cases still occur, most commonly in bats, foxes, skunks and raccoons. Ontario’s rabies control measures are working well for most of these species (except bats, since there are no control measures).