Fact Sheet
Updated September 2017

Key facts

  • Rabies is a vaccine-preventable viral disease which occurs in more than 150 countries and territories.
  • Dogs are the main source of human rabies deaths, contributing up to 99% of all rabies transmissions to humans.
  • Rabies elimination is feasible through vaccination of dogs and prevention of dog bites.
  • Infection causes tens of thousands of deaths every year, mainly in Asia and Africa.
  • 40% of people bitten by suspect rabid animals are children under 15 years of age.
  • Immediate, thorough wound washing with soap and water after contact with a suspect rabid animal is crucial and can save lives.
  • WHO, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) have established a global “United Against Rabies” collaboration to provide a common strategy to achieve “Zero human rabies deaths by 2030”.


Rabies is a viral disease that specifically affects a cat’s central nervous system (CNS). The primary way the rabies virus is transmitted to cats in the United States is through a bite from a disease carrier: foxes, raccoons, skunks, and bats. Infectious virus particles are retained in a rabid animal’s salivary glands to better disseminate the virus through their saliva.

Once the virus enters the cat’s body, it replicates in the cells of the muscles and then spreads to the closest nerve fibers, including all peripheral, sensory and motor nerves, traveling from there to the CNS via fluid within the nerves. The incubation of rabies is, on average, between one and three months, but can be as little as a day and up to a year. Once the symptoms have begun, the virus progresses rapidly. Symptoms, Scratches and more

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Cats, dogs and ferrets

If you were bitten by a cat, dog, or ferret that appeared healthy at the time you were bitten, it can be confined by its owner for 10 days and observed. No anti-rabies prophylaxis is needed. No person in the United States has ever contracted rabies from a dog, cat or ferret held in quarantine for 10 days.

If a dog, cat, or ferret appeared ill at the time it bit you or becomes ill during the 10 day quarantine, it should be evaluated by a veterinarian for signs of rabies and you should seek medical advice about the need for anti-rabies prophylaxis.

Animal Type to Postexposure Prophylaxis – Page Link

Learn the Facts About Cats and Rabies

Did you know that we are safer than ever from rabies in the United States? Yet some people see a community cat wandering in her outdoor home and worry that she has rabies. It’s an unfounded fear that could end up endangering cats’ lives.

At Alley Cat Allies, we strive to alleviate fears about rabies through education and understanding. As World Rabies Day approaches on September 28, we are getting an early start debunking some of the most common misconceptions about this notorious virus and how it relates to cats.

These are the facts: Rabies prevention is a public health victory. It is extremely rare that cats contract it, let alone spread it.

Here are answers to some of your concerns about rabies and cats:

How common is rabies and is it a death sentence if you contract it?