Rabies

What is rabies?
Rabies is a disease caused by the rabies virus that affects the brain. It is usually spread from animal to animal but can also be spread from an infected animal to a human through a bite or other contact with an animal's saliva. Warm blooded animals, including humans, can become infected with the rabies virus. Rabies is a very serious disease; if an infected person is not treated, rabies is almost always fatal. In Ontario, rabies is most commonly found in wild bats, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and skunks. Domestic animals, including dogs, cats, ferrets and rabbits can also carry the virus.
How do I get rabies?

Humans can become infected with the rabies virus after coming in contact with the saliva of an infected animal. This can be through: 

  • An animal bite
  • A scratch or cut from an infected animal
  • Contact with the moist tissues of your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Contact with an open wound or sore
How do I know if I have rabies?

Most people develop symptoms of rabies within 3 to 8 weeks; however, symptoms can develop as early as 9 days or even years after coming in contact with the virus. Symptoms do not usually show up right after a bite or scratch from an infected animal because the virus moves slowly through the nervous system. Once symptoms of rabies appear, the outcome is almost always fatal.

Early symptoms of rabies can be vague. As the disease gets worse, symptoms can include: 

  • Confusion and anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fear of water or difficulty drinking or swallowing (hydrophobia)
  • Increased saliva in the mouth
  • Slow moving paralysis
How do I know if an animal has rabies?

Generally, animals with rabies act strangely. They may be hostile or aggressive (furious rabies), try to bite, or may even act unusually timid (dumb rabies). Some animals can foam at the mouth or drool, because they have more saliva in their mouths when infected with the virus. Be careful around wild animals and pets that you do not know. Do not provoke or approach animals in the wild, or try to capture or feed them.

The following are some signs of a rabies infection in animals:

  • Wild animals that act friendly or tame
  • Animals that hide and isolate themselves
  • Animals that are no longer fearful of humans or do not run away when approached
  • Animals with a drooping head, strange facial expressions, sagging jaws, or inability to walk
  • Extreme excitement or agitation
  • Animals seen attacking objects or other animals without being provoked
  • Animals that bite themselves
  • Frothing or extra saliva in an animal's mouth
What do I do if I come accross a wild animal?
If you have found a wild animal that appears sick, injured or orphaned, it may or may not need your help. For information on what to do if you find a wild animal, visit ottawa.ca or call 3-1-1 (TTY: 613-580-2401).
What do I do if I find a bat in my home?

If you find a bat in your home, DO NOT TOUCH THE BAT!

If there has been any potential contact with the bat:

  • If it is in a room with a door, remove all people and pets and close the door
  • Do not attempt to capture or kill the bat.
  • During regular business hours call 613-580-6744 or after-hours call 311, and ask to speak with a Public Health Inspector about the risk of rabies
  • If it is necessary to capture the bat for testing it is recommended to contact a trained wildlife or animal control worker. A trained wildlife or animal control worker can also ensure there are no other bats in the home.  OPH does not provide bat removal services.

If you are absolutely certain there has been no contact with the bat, close off the area the bat is found, remove people and pets from the area and open a window or exterior door to encourage the bat to leave, otherwise contact pest control services to remove a bat trapped in your home and also ensure there are no other bats.

If professional services are not available to assist then follow these steps to carefully capture the bat

To prevent bats from entering your home again in the future visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/prevent-conflicts-bats

More information:

Prevent conflicts with bats https://www.ontario.ca/page/prevent-conflicts-bats

CDC In Your Home: https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats/contact/home.html

CDC To Capture a Bat: https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats/contact/capture.html

What if I come across a sick or injured animal?

Starting Friday, January 5, the City will handle calls about sick and injured animals and will take on responsibility for transporting them.

If you see an injured domestic animal, such as a dog or cat, or small wild animal, such as a raccoon, squirrel, rabbit or skunk, please call 3-1-1. The City will assess the situation and dispatch a fully trained by-law officer to transport the animal, if needed. The by-law officer will bring the animal to either the Ottawa Humane Society or an emergency veterinary hospital.

For more information on this City program, visit ottawa.ca or call 3-1-1 (TTY: 613-580-2401).

What do I do if I get scratched or bitten by an animal?
  • Clean the wound with soap and warm water immediately for 15 minutes
  • See a healthcare provider as soon as possible to look at the bite or scratch
  • Report the bite to Ottawa Public Health (OPH) by calling 613-580-6744 during regular business hours or 311 after hours, on weekends and statutory holidays
  • If you know the animal owner and you can speak to the owner, collect as much information as possible for your health care provider and OPH, including the animal's vaccination records
What do I do if my pet is bitten or scratched by an animal suspected of having rabies?
  • Try not to touch your pet because there may be saliva from the animal on your pet's fur
  • Call your veterinarian to discuss the bite or scratch and to have your animal assessed
  • Report the bite to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) at 1-877-424-1300
What is the treatment for a suspected exposure to rabies?
If you have been bitten by an animal that might have rabies, the best protection is a series of injections, called rabies post exposure prophylaxis (RPEP). It is important to start RPEP as soon as possible after being bitten. Please refer to the RPEP fact sheet for more detail.
How can I prevent rabies?
  • Vaccinate your pets and ensure that their vaccines are up to date, as required by law
  • Keep your pets on a leash when required
  • Be in control of your pet at all times (including in leash free areas)
  • Do not touch or feed wild animals or keep them as pets
  • Do not try to trap or capture wild animals that enter your home
  • Garbage can attract stray animals; ensure your garbage is protected and secure
  • Do not touch or approach animals you do not know even if they appear friendly
  • Some jobs can put you more at risk; talk to your health care provider about rabies vaccine if you work in a lab, in a veterinary clinic, or in an animal control or wildlife setting, to ensure you are protected
  • When travelling, do not touch or approach stray or wild animals; discuss pre-exposure vaccine with your health care provider if you plan on spending extended time in countries where rabies is a risk

For further information or to report an animal bite, call Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744 (Monday to Friday 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM) or call 3-1-1 after hours (on the weekend and statutory holidays) or visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca

Rabies Post Exposure Prophylaxis (RPEP)
What is Rabies Post Exposure Prophylaxis (RPEP)?

Rabies is a disease caused by the rabies virus that affects the brain and is almost always fatal. RPEP is the only effective treatment known to prevent rabies after someone has been exposed to the virus.

I was bitten or scratched by an animal. How can I get RPEP?

It is important to see your doctor or health care provider if you have been bitten or scratched by an animal. The health care provider can assess if you have been potentially exposed to the rabies virus and whether RPEP is needed. The health care provider will contact Ottawa Public Health to order RPEP.

I was bitten on scratched by an animal, but I think I had rabies vaccine in the past. Do I need more doses?

If you have been vaccinated against rabies in the past and have been newly exposed to an animal with rabies you must receive additional doses of vaccine to be protected. Discuss this with your healthcare provider to be sure that you are protected. It is important to keep your vaccine records up to date to make sure a proper assessment can be done.

How is Ottawa Public Health (OPH) involved with RPEP?

OPH is contacted by a health care provider who has assessed a patient with a potential exposure to the rabies virus after a bite or contact with an animal's saliva. OPH will deliver RPEP to the health care provider. Following the rabies vaccine schedule from the Canadian Immunization Guide is very important. OPH will call you to make sure that you receive the right doses on the right days. See the table below for more details.

How is RPEP given to an exposed person?

Your health care provider will administer RPEP by providing 2 types of medication: rabies immunoglobulin (RabIg), which is given with a needle around the wound and in the arm or leg, to fight the rabies virus immediately in the body; and a vaccine for rabies that is given in 4 to 5 doses on different days and on a very specific schedule.

It is always preferred that you begin RPEP on the same day that the bite or exposure to rabies occurred. On the day that you begin RPEP, one dose of vaccine and the RabIg are administered. Additional doses of vaccine are given on days 3, 7, 14 and sometimes on day 28. Your health care provider and OPH will determine if a 5th dose on day 28 is required.

RPEP schedule as per the Canadian Immunization Guide*
Day of RPEP administrationRPEP required
Day 0 (first dose, given as soon as possible after first bite, scratch or saliva exposure) RabIg at wound site + Rabies Vaccine
(2 different body sites)
Day 3 Rabies vaccine
Day 7 Rabies vaccine
Day 14 Rabies vaccine
Day 28 (only required in certain cases) Rabies vaccine

*Canadian Immunization Schedule for RPEP

Do I have to pay for RPEP? 

All doses of RPEP are provided free of charge by OPH to Ottawa residents who are considered to be potentially exposed to the rabies virus.

I can't make it to a scheduled appointment on one of the days in the schedule. Can I skip a dose or reschedule?

No. If you cannot make an appointment, it is very important that you call OPH and your health care provider right away. In order to be effective, the schedule for RPEP MUST be followed exactly and ALL doses must be given.

It is important that RPEP is started as soon as possible after the bite or scratch for the best possible protection. RPEP is effective in preventing rabies disease if given correctly.

For further information or to report an animal bite, call Ottawa Public Health at

613-580-6744 (Monday to Friday 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM) or call 3-1-1 after hours (on the weekend and statutory holidays) or visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca

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