A-Z List | Accessible Info | Careers | Contact Us

 
 
revised July 12, 2022

Health Protection

Animals, bugs and pets

Rabies

Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including people. It is spread through the saliva and mucus membranes of an infected animal. Humans and other mammals can become infected through a bite, cut or scratch from an animal with rabies or if the rabies virus comes into contact with the mucus membranes in their mouth, nose or eyes.

The chance of running into a rabid animal in Ontario is very low. The animals that most often transmit rabies are foxes, skunks, bats and raccoons. Humans and their pets can become infected when they come into contact with an animal that has rabies.

Once symptoms appear, rabies is always fatal. There is treatment to prevent rabies in people. Vaccinating pets will prevent them from getting rabies.

Small wild rodents such as squirrels, rats, and chipmunks are almost never infected with rabies. Small pets, such as guinea pigs and hamsters, are also not likely to get infected with rabies. Bites by these animals are usually not considered a risk of rabies unless the animals were sick or behaving in any unusual manner and rabies was widespread in the area.

There are several different stains of rabies virus in Ontario. The 3 main strains are Arctic fox, raccoon and bat rabies, with several variants of bat rabies. Any mammal can be infected with any of the strains.

There have been positive cases reported from imported animals from other countries where there is a high risk of getting rabies.

More information

Rabies in people

Symptoms

At first, rabies can cause general malaise including fever, then progress to confusion, breathing problems and seizures. Death usually happens a few days after symptoms appear.

If you’ve been bitten or scratched by an animal that may have rabies

If you’ve been bitten or scratched by an animal that may have rabies, or suspect that you have been bitten or scratched, you should:

  • Clean and wash the bite or scratch thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Seek medical attention immediately.
  • Report the incident to Peel Public Health at 905-799-7700. A Public Health Inspector will investigate the incident.

Rabies can be prevented if you seek medical treatment quickly after being bitten or scratched by an animal.

Treatment

Treatment for rabies is safe and effective but must be given as soon as possible after you have been bitten or scratched. An injection of rabies immune globulin (RiG) will be followed by four doses of rabies prophylaxis spread out over two weeks. See the Canadian Immunization Guide for more information.

Prevention

  • Stay away from animals that are acting strangely or are injured or sick. Notify animal control if it is a wild animal.
  • Keep a safe distance from wild animals, even if they look healthy. Wild animals that have rabies may also show no fear of people and might easily come close to you; this being unusual behaviour for wild animals.
  • Keep your pet’s vaccination up to date.
  • Even if imported pets have been vaccinated in another country, they must be re-vaccinated after their arrival in Ontario.

Adopting and importing pets from other countries

As of September 28, 2022, commercial dogs from countries at high-risk for dog rabies will no longer be permitted entry into Canada. Commercial dogs can include, but are not limited to dogs for resale, adoption, fostering, breeding, show or exhibition, research, and other purposes. More information about this new measure from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Bringing pets to Canada from certain countries carries a risk of spreading rabies to other animals and people. According to the World Health Organization, rabies causes tens of thousands of deaths every year, mainly in Asia and Africa, and in up to 99% of these cases, dogs are responsible for spreading rabies to people.

Even if pets have been vaccinated for rabies in another country, they must be re-vaccinated after their arrival in Ontario.

Prospective dog owners

Even if dogs have been vaccinated for rabies in another country, they must be re-vaccinated with a Canada-approved rabies vaccine after their arrival in Ontario. The vaccine must be administered by a veterinarian as required by law (R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 567).

Organizations (e.g., rescue agencies)

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for regulating the importation of animals, including dogs, into Canada. Even if dogs have been vaccinated for rabies in another country, they must be re-vaccinated with a Canada-approved rabies vaccine after their arrival in Ontario. The vaccine must be administered by a veterinarian as required by law (R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 567).

As of May 2021, the CFIA has updated Canada's import requirements for commercial dogs less than 8 months of age for breeding and resale, including adoption.

Rabies in animals

Stay away from any animals that are acting strangely, as they might be infected with rabies. Rabid animals might:

  • Drool or froth at their mouth.
  • Walk with difficulty.
  • Attack objects or other animals for no obvious reason.
  • Show no fear of humans.

How long it takes for an infected animal to show symptoms of rabies

After being exposed, an animal can start showing symptoms anywhere from 2 weeks to several months. Eventually, all animals that have the virus will develop symptoms and die from rabies.

Animals can have rabies without showing symptoms

The rabies virus can be found in animal’s saliva days before any obvious symptoms develop. After being exposed, an animal can start showing symptoms anywhere from two weeks to several months.

How to protect your pet from rabies

  • By law, pet owners in Ontario must keep dogs, cats and ferrets over three months old vaccinated for rabies.
  • Keep your pets on a leash. They should not run loose in public spaces, unless in off-leash parks.

Prevention

  • By law, pet owners in Ontario must keep dogs, cats and ferrets over three months old vaccinated for rabies.
  • Stay away from animals that are behaving strangely.
  • Keep a safe distance from wildlife, even if they look healthy.
  • Do not feed wild animals.
  • Teach your children not to handle wildlife or pets that they do not know.

Rabies in bats

Rabid bats will act strangely: not flying well, being out during the day or crawling on the ground.

People can get rabies from infected bats. Careless handling of bats is the primary source of rabies exposure to humans. The major concern about bat rabies is that you might not notice that you have been bitten or scratched because bats have small needle-like teeth and claws.

What to do if you come in contact with a bat

If you were bitten or scratched by a bat, or if saliva from a bat gets into your eyes, nose, mouth or a wound, wash the affected area thoroughly and get medical advice immediately.

Bats have sharp, needle-like teeth that may cause a bite with marks that are not easily seen. You should seek medial advice even if you do not have an obvious bite wound when a bat:

  • Touches you or lands on you.
  • Has been found in a room with an infant, a sleeping person, or a person who cannot communicate.

You should also contact Peel Public Health by calling 905-799-7700.

You cannot get rabies just from seeing a bat in an attic, in a cave or at distance. You cannot get rabies from having contact with bat guano (feces), blood, or urine.

What to do if your pet is exposed to a bat

Immediately contact a veterinarian for assistance. Remember to keep vaccinations current for cats, dogs and other animals.

Keeping bats out of your home

  • The best time of year to bat-proof your home is the fall or winter when most bats are hibernating.
  • Carefully examine your home for holes that might allow bats to enter. Any openings larger than 0.6 cm by 1.3 cm should be sealed.
  • Use window screens, chimney caps, and draft-guards beneath doors to attics.
  • Fill electrical and plumbing holes with stainless steel wool or caulking and ensure that all doors to the outside close tightly.
  • If bats are in your home, watch at dusk to see where they leave. Loosely hang clear plastic sheeting or bird netting over these areas. Bats will be able to crawl out and leave, but not re-enter. After the last bats have left, seal the openings.
  • During summer, many young bats are unable to fly. If you get rid of adult bats during this time, the young may be trapped inside and die or make their way into living quarters. If possible, avoid trying to rid your home of bats from May through August.
  • Most bats hibernate in the fall or winter, so these are the best times to bat-proof your home.

If you find a bat in your home, do not handle it by yourself. Contact your local Animal Services or wildlife removal company. If a bat is found near where people are sleeping, we recommend that the bat be tested for rabies.

Rabies in raccoons

Raccoon rabies is of concern in Ontario because raccoons are very common in this province, especially in urban areas. They are not afraid of humans and have learned to live in towns and cities as well as the countryside. Some people like to feed and handle raccoons. This increases the chances of people and pets becoming infected with rabies. The province was free of raccoon rabies until 2015/16 when several raccoons and skunks in Hamilton, Haldimand County and Niagara were confirmed to have been infected with rabies.

There is no cure for rabies once the symptoms of the disease appear, so if you are bitten or scratched by a raccoon, you must seek medical attention immediately and call Peel Public Health at 905-799-7700.

Keeping raccoons out of your home

  • Do not feed or provide shelter for raccoons.
  • Cover up potential entrances, such as uncapped chimneys, loose shingles and openings in attics, roofs and eaves.
  • Make a raccoon den unliveable. Keep the area brightly lit as raccoons prefer darkness.
  • Always cover garbage cans and composters. Use a heavy weight to keep the lid in place.
  • Install bird feeders, especially suet feeders, on slippery poles or wires which raccoons cannot climb.
  • Make sure that all raccoons, including the young ones, leave the area before sealing up holes in any part of the building. This is especially important between March and July which is raccoon breeding season.
  • Block the entrances to a raccoon den once you are sure that all animals have left. You can use sheet metal.
  • Repair siding and holes in buildings and use heavy rustproof screening to cover open-air vents or chimneys.
  • Trim all overhanging tree branches or any other structure that animals might use to get on to the roof of a residence or a detached building.
  • Discourage raccoons from looking for grubs and larvae on your lawn especially after a rainfall. Sprinkle pure soap flakes on the lawn and water thoroughly or mix bone meal into the garden soil.

For more information on rabies, call Peel Public Health at 905-799-7700.


Health Topics A-Z | Information for Professionals | Information for Workplaces
| School Corner | Employment/Volunteer Opportunities | Clinics, Classes and Events | Resources & Factsheets | Translated Information | About Public Health | Contact Us | Public Health Home Page

Revised: July 12, 2022

Privacy Service Commitment

Smaller Text Larger Text