Although all species of mammals can become infected with the virus, only a few species are best able to spread the virus to other animals. The animals that most commonly transmit rabies to other animals include:
Domestic animals can also get the disease. Cats, cattle, and dogs are the most frequently reported rabid domestic animals in the United States (see Rabies and Pets).
Only mammals get rabies. Birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish do not get the disease.
The incubation period may vary from a few days to several years, but is typically one to three months. During this time, the virus is multiplying within the body.
At some point, the virus will travel along nerve cells to the brain. When the virus reaches the brain, causing the end of the incubation period, it multiplies quickly, and rabies symptoms begin. Over the next week, the virus causes encephalitis and ultimately death.
Early symptoms are similar to the flu (e.g., fever, muscle aches, headache). As the disease worsens, symptoms can include brain and nervous system problems.
(Click Rabies Symptoms for more information.)