Rabies is a dangerous and fearsome disease. An animal with rabies can pass along the disease to humans, usually through biting. In fact, the danger of being bit by a rabid dog was a central element of two classic stories: "Old Yeller," by Fred Gipson, and "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee. Many animals can contract rabies, but there are a few that account for a large share of cases.
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Only mammals get rabies. There are no rabies in birds, lizards or other non-mammalian animals.
Rabies is a disease caused by a virus. It is present in animal saliva and is most commonly transmitted by an animal bite from one animal to another or from an animal to a human being. The virus attacks the nervous system of the infected animal and causes a wide variety of rabies symptoms and changes in behavior. Initial symptoms are similar to many other diseases: fever, headache, body aches and overall weakness. As the disease advances, it attacks the brain and can lead to "mad dog" behavior: excitation, drooling, confusion, jerky movements and aggression. Rabies is a deadly disease and, if untreated, leads to death in a matter of days after symptoms first appear. Rabies in humans can be treated with antiviral vaccinations.
Wild Animals and Rabies
Mammals are warm-blooded animals with fur or hair that give birth to live babies rather than lay eggs. Human beings are mammals, as are many familiar wild animal species.
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Any mammal can contract rabies. Rabies is most often reported in mammals that tend to come in contact with humans or live near human settlements, including:
Cases of rabies have also been reported in:
Rabies in Pets and Domesticated Animals
Your pet bird or turtle cannot contract rabies. However, pets and domesticated animals that are mammals and can easily get the disease if bitten by another animal that is already infected. Cases in pets and other domesticated animals, while they do occur, are relatively rare, but have been reported in:
If you are bitten by an animal, get immediate medical attention. Whenever possible, the biting animal should be tested for rabies or at least observed for possible symptoms. Pet dogs and cats can be vaccinated in advance against rabies, just as people are vaccinated against chicken pox. It is unusual for people to receive vaccinations for preventing rabies unless they work closely with animals and are in danger of being bitten.