What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal.  In Canada, bats, foxes, skunks, and raccoons are the most common transmitters of the disease.

How is rabies spread?

Rabies is spread through saliva in infected animals to humans and other animals primarily by bites. Rabies can also be spread through scratches, exposure to mucous membranes or open skin.

What are the signs and symptoms of rabies?

Animals with rabies may show a variety of signs. The disease can appear in two forms:

Dumb rabies

  • Domestic animals may become depressed and try to hide in isolated places.
  • Wild animals may lose their fear of humans and appear unusually friendly.
  • Wild animals that usually only come out at night may be out during the day.
  • Animals may have paralysis. Areas most commonly affected are the face, neck (which causes abnormal facial expressions or drooling), or the hind legs.

Furious rabies

  • Animals may become very excited and aggressive.
  • Periods of excitement usually alternate with periods of depression.
  • Animals may attack objects or other animals or chew and bite at their own hind legs. (Canadian Food Inspection Agency, 2014)

It is important to note that infected animals can transmit the rabies virus several days before showing any signs and symptoms (CFIA, 2014). This is why it is important to investigate all bites and scratches even if the animal appears healthy.

How common is rabies?

In Canada and Ontario

Did you know that rabies cases in animals peak during the summer months? Last year (2019) in Canada there were 116 animals that tested positive for rabies and 65 of those animals were in Ontario. This includes 41 bats, 13 skunks, 9 raccoons, 1 dog and 1 cat. These numbers are down compared to the 183 rabies cases in 2018.  See Canadian Food Inspection Agency for up-to-date confirmed rabies cases in Canada by province.

In Windsor-Essex County

The last confirmed case of rabies in Windsor- Essex County was identified in the summer of 2008 in a bat. The last case of rabies in a land animal in Windsor- Essex County was a red fox in 1994. If new cases of rabies are confirmed in our area, The Windsor- Essex County Health Unit will release this information on our website at www.wechu.org

What is being done about rabies in Ontario?

To combat the spread of rabies in Ontario, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry distributes oral rabies vaccines for foxes, raccoons and skunks. This is called baiting.

Can rabies be treated?

Post-exposure prophylaxis (i.e. shots) can be administered by a medical professional soon after a human is exposed to an animal suspected of having rabies. However, once symptoms appear, there is no treatment for rabies and it is almost always fatal.

How can you prevent the spread of rabies?

Reduce the risk of getting bit

  • Do not attempt to pet or feed unfamiliar wild or domestic animals
  • Do not disturb animals when they are eating, sleeping or with their young
  • Do not attempt to break up an animal fight using your body
  • Keep your garbage properly sealed to avoid attracting wild animals
  • Teach your children about animal safety

If you are a pet owner

  • Vaccinate your pet against rabies (3 months of age or older)
  • Keep your pets away from wild or stray animals
  • Keep your pet on a leash when off of your property
  • Monitor your pets often when they are outside
  • Seek veterinary assistance if your pet has been attacked by another animal

Be sure to seek medical advice before travelling to rabies endemic areas outside of Canada.

If you've been bitten or scratched by an animal:
(See our Animal Bite page)

  • Wash the wound with warm, soapy water for at least 15 minutes (WHO, 2016)
  • Seek medical attention
  • Report it to us immediately at 519-258-2146 ext. 4475. If the incident occurs outside of regular business hours, or on a holiday call us at 519-973-4510.

What do you do if you see a wild animal acting strangely?

If you notice a wild animal acting strangely, DO NOT approach the animal. Call the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) public Rabies hotline at 1-888-574-6656. Also, please call the Windsor-Essex County Humane Society at 519-966-5751 for animal control.


Canadian Food Inspection Agency. (2016). Rabies in Canada. Retrieved from http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/diseases/reportable/rabies/rabies-in-canada/eng/1356156989919/1356157139999

Canadian Food Inspection Agency. (2014). Fact sheet - Rabies. Retrieved  from http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/diseases/reportable/rabies/fact-sheet/eng/1356155202013/1356155379445

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Signs and symptoms.  Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/symptoms/index.html

Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. (2016). Rabies. Retrieved from https://www.ontario.ca/page/rabies

Ontario. (1990). Health Protection and Promotion Act, R.R.O., Reg. 567 Rabies Immunization. Retrieved from https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/900567

World Health Organization. (2016). Rabies- Fact sheet. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs099/en/