Rabies Home > Rabies and Pets

All mammals can get rabies, and pets are no exception; however, wild animals are much more likely to be rabid than pets. Still, it's important to have your pets vaccinated for rabies to prevent them from acquiring the disease from wildlife (and then possibly transmitting it to humans). Statistics on rabies and pets indicate that cases of the disease are more common in cats than in dogs.

Rabies and Pets: An Introduction

Wild animals are more likely to be rabid than pets in the United States. In fact, in 2001 wild animals accounted for 93 percent of reported cases of rabies among animals. Raccoons accounted for 40 percent of these rabies cases (see Raccoons and Rabies). Domestic animals accounted for only 6.8 percent of all rabid animals reported in the United States in 2001. There was one case of rabies in humans during 2001, and there were three rabies cases in 2002.

Which Pets Most Commonly Have Rabies?

Rabies cases in cats continue to be more than twice as numerous as those in dogs or cattle.
In 2001, cases of rabies in cats increased 8.4 percent, whereas those in dogs, cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and swine decreased 21.9 percent, 1.2 percent, 1.9 percent, and 70.0 percent, respectively compared with those reported in 2000.

Rabies and Pets: Why the Vaccine?

While wildlife are more likely to be rabid than domestic animals in the United States, the amount of human contact with domestic pets greatly exceeds the amount of contact with wildlife. Your pets and other domestic animals can be infected when they are bitten by rabid wild animals. When such "spillover" rabies occurs in domestic animals, the risk to humans increases. Have your pets vaccinated by your veterinarian to prevent them from acquiring the disease from wildlife, and thereby transmitting it to humans.
Rabies vaccines are available for:
  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Ferrets
  • Horses
  • Sheep
  • Cattle.


To be effective, these rabies vaccines must be injected before the pet is exposed to rabies. If exposed, the animal should get a booster shot.

One of the best ways to prevent rabies in pets is to keep up to date on vaccinations for cats, dogs, and ferrets. Depending on the type of rabies vaccine used, it should be given to your pet annually or every three years. Even indoor pets should have rabies vaccinations. There was a case in which a woman found her unvaccinated indoor cat with a bat in its mouth. The bat, which escaped, was assumed to have rabies, making for the tough decision of either euthanizing the cat or isolating it for six months.
Not only is it good preventative healthcare to vaccinate pets, but according to The Humane Society of the United States, it's the law; most states have laws requiring that dogs and cats be vaccinated. Some states also require rabies vaccinations for ferrets.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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