Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. The virus is secreted in saliva and is usually transmitted to people and animals by a bite from an infected animal. Less commonly, rabies can be transmitted when saliva from a rabid animal comes in contact with an open cut on the skin or the eyes, nose, or mouth of a person or animal. Once the outward signs of the disease appear, rabies is nearly always fatal. Most cases of rabies occur in wild animals — mainly skunks, raccoons, bats, coyotes, and foxes and occasionally cats. Rabies also occurs in dogs and cattle in significant numbers and rarely in horses, goats, sheep, swine and ferrets.
Approved rabies vaccines are available for cats, dogs, ferrets, horses, cattle and sheep. Rabies vaccination and animal control programs, along with better treatment for people who have been bitten, have dramatically reduced the number of human cases of rabies in the United States. Most of the relatively few, recent human cases in this country have resulted from exposures to bats. Dogs are still a significant source of rabies in other countries, so travelers should be aware of this risk when traveling outside of the United States. Your veterinarian will advise you on the recommended or required frequency of vaccination for your pets in your area.
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 unfamiliar animals especially bats —even if they appear friendly.
Contact the local health department and animal control authorities for any suspicious case. If your pet is a cat, dog or ferret, the officials will confine the animal and watch it closely for ten days. Home confinement may be allowed.
From American Veterinary Medical Association Website: www.avma.org/animal_health
Also see: www.worldrabiesday.org