Rabies in Niagara

Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of all mammals, including humans.

Rabies usually spreads to humans from the bite of an infected animal. Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal.

In Niagara, bats, foxes, dogs and raccoons are the main animals to be careful around. Small mammals, such as mice, gerbils and hamsters have also been known to transmit rabies.

Animals that are rabid will show a variety of signs ranging from withdrawal to aggression.

Rabies investigations often involve external agencies, such as the local SPCA and health care providers. If you are one of these agencies, see rabies information for health care professionals.

Video: Protect against rabies

Rabies information

  • How rabies spreads

    Rabies is transmitted through infected saliva from bites and scratches. At this point there will be no symptoms of rabies in the person bitten.

    When the virus enters the body, it spreads through the nervous system until it reaches the brain. Once in the brain, the virus multiplies quickly and symptoms appear. The distance of virus entry from the brain will determine the length of time it takes for rabies symptoms to appear.

    In some cases, rabies symptoms may not appear for up to six months after the bite. It's never too late to start rabies vaccination following an animal bite.

  • How to protect yourself against rabies

    Every owner or person with care or custody of a cat, dog or ferret three months of age or over must have them immunized against rabies according to R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 567: Rabies Immunization.

    To help protect against rabies:

    • Don't feed wild animals
    • Warn your children to stay away from wild or stray animals
    • Don't attempt to trap wild animals on your property
    • Don't keep wildlife as pets
    • Don't touch dead or sick animals
    • Don't try to nurse sick animals to health
    • Don't relocate any wild animals

    If your animal was potentially exposed to a wild animal and you did not sustain any exposure, contact your local veterinarian for follow-up.

    If you're calling to report wild animals living on your property and/or found a sick animal, contact your local SPCA or humane society.

  • What to do if bitten by a dog or cat

    Rabies is spread through saliva from bites or scratches from infected animals. If you have been in contact with an animal that might have rabies, you should:

    1. Wash the wound - Use soap and antiseptic under running water for 15 minutes
    2. See a doctor - The rabies vaccine needs to be administered soon after exposure
    3. Report the animal - Give the doctor as much information about the animal as possible

    Your doctor will contact Public Health to investigate the incident.

    As part of the investigation, if the animal can be located, a health inspector will require a 10-day observation period of the animal to monitor for signs of rabies. We will not remove a healthy animal from the owner.

    After 10 days, the health inspector will return and release the animal if it's healthy, and upon conclusion of the investigation, follow up with the person bitten or scratched.

    If you're bitten by an animal other than a dog or cat, each situation will be risk-assessed by Public Health to determine next steps.

  • What to do if your animal bites someone

    If your animal bites or scratches a person, the incident should be reported to Niagara Region Public Health and Emergency Services for follow-up.

    To report the incident, call 905-688-8248 ext. 7590 or email inspect@niagararegion.ca.

    A Public Health inspector will contact you to collect some information, including confirming your animal's health status and to explain the 10-day observation period.

    Certain animals set out in Ontario Regulation 567 must have current rabies vaccination as per Ontario Regulation 567. If your animal was involved in a bite or scratch incident, the assigned health inspector will follow-up with the animal's vaccination status and recommend ways to get your animal vaccinated if there is financial need.

  • When to consider rabies vaccination

    Vaccination may be considered in the following circumstances.

    • If you get a bite or scratch on your neck or head, you might need to start rabies treatment right away. However, if the animal is a pet, has all its rabies shots, the bite was provoked, and rabies isn't common in your area, you might be able to wait.
    • If the animal can be watched for a certain time by the health department, you don't need to start treatment right away. You can wait until after the observation period as advised by Public Health.
    • If the animal tests positive for rabies by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the local health unit will work with your doctor and others to handle the situation
    • If you have contact with a bat, rabies treatment is needed if the bat touches or lands on you and bites, scratches, or gets its saliva in a wound or on a mucous membrane. Signs of contact include waking up crying or yelling or finding a new bite or scratch. For kids or adults who can't clearly explain what happened, any contact with a bat, even through clothes, should be treated as a reason to start rabies treatment.

Rabies statistics in Niagara

Rabies statistics in Ontario

Learn about rabies statistics in Ontario.

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