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Other Wildlife and Rabies

Rabies is an infectious disease caused by a virus that infects nerves in warm-blooded animals. The rabies virus reaches the brain through the nervous system.

Eventually it reaches the salivary gland and the rabies virus can be transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. By this time, the disease has usually affected the brain and caused a change in behaviour of the animal. It eventually causes death.

Although the animal might not be showing any signs or symptoms at the time of the bite or scratch, the animal might still be infectious and be able to transmit rabies through its saliva.


Rabies moves from an infected animal through the saliva by:

  • biting
  • contact with the virus through an open cut, sore, or wound
  • contact with the virus through mucous membranes (mouth, nose, eyes)

Petting a potential rabid animal or handling its blood, urine, or feces is not considered to be a potential exposure to the rabies virus, however, such contact should be avoided. Being sprayed by a skunk is also not considered an exposure. These types of human contact do not support the need for post-exposure rabies vaccination.


The animals in Canada most often proven rabid are wild animals (such as skunks, foxes, and raccoons), bats, cattle, and stray dogs and cats.

Squirrels, hamsters, guinea-pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, mice, or other small rodents, as well as lagomorphs (such as rabbits and hares) are only rarely found to be infected with rabies because it is believed that they are likely to be killed by the larger animal (such as a raccoon or fox) that could have potentially transmitted rabies to them.

Although these small animals can potentially become infected by rabies, no cases of transmission of bat strains of rabies from these small animals to humans have been found. Because these small animals are not known to have caused human rabies in North America, post-exposure rabies vaccination (PEP) should be considered only if the animal's behaviour was highly unusual. For example, a bite from a squirrel while someone is feeding it would not be considered unusual behaviour and PEP is not needed based on this information alone.

Larger rodents, such as groundhogs, woodchucks, and beavers can potentially carry rabies, although this is rare in Canada. Bites, scratches, or saliva contact from these larger animals requires an assessment of the circumstances of the human contact to determine the need for PEP including the rate of rabies in these animals in the physical area, the rate of rabies in other animals, the type of human contact, and the circumstances that led to the bite, scratch, or saliva contact (including whether contact was provoked or unprovoked).

Human contact to livestock are usually confined to salivary contact, with the exception of horses and swine, from which bites have been reported. The risk of infection after contact with rabid cattle is low.

  • Seek medical attention immediately if you were bitten, scratched, or exposed to any wild animal's saliva.
  • Contact the local health unit to discuss if there is a need for rabies post-exposure vaccine. 
  • If the animal was humanely euthanized, contact the local health unit to discuss if the animal can be submitted for testing to rule out potential rabies exposure.

For more information, call Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520 Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. or visit the health unit's website at

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