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Pets(dogs, cats, ferrets)

In the past, bites from domestic animals were the major cause of rabies in humans in the United States.  Domestic animals includes both pets and farm animals.  Today pets and farm animals can be vaccinated against the rabies virus.  In the United States today, rabies is more common in wild animals than in pets.  In other parts of the world, though, dogs still account for most rabies exposures in humans.


dog with rabies

Dogs were domesticated from wolves many years ago. One of the earliest suggested records of a domestic dog is from the Middle East around 12,000 years ago. The dog in this picture has been diagnosed with rabies. In 2001, 89 dogs in the United States diagnosed with rabies.


There are approximately 30 domestic breeds of cats in the world.  Cats are the domestic animal most likely to have rabies in the United States.   There were 270 cases of rabies in cats in the United States in 2001.



Many people now have ferrets as pets.  Pet ferrets can be vaccinated against rabies.  There is one type of wild ferret in North America, called the black-footed ferret.  It is the rarest North American mammal. There were no cases of rabies in ferrets in the United States in 2001.

Domestic animals with rabies act differently than healthy animals. They may try to snap at you or bite you. Other signs are general sickness, increased drooling, and problems swallowing.  If you see an animal acting strangely, avoid it and let an adult know. Remember, not all cats, dogs, and ferrets have been vaccinated against rabies. If you see a stray dog, cat, or ferret, do not pet it - have an adult call the local animal control control officer for help.

Rabies in domestic animals, 1955-2001

Rabies has decreased in domestic animals in this country during the past 40 years. In 2001, there were 497 cases of rabies in domestic animals in the United States.    

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Viral and Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch (VRZB)
Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases (DVRD)
National Center for Infectious Diseases (NCID)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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This page last reviewed February 6, 2003

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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