Rabies virus can cause a nearly 100% fatal illness in humans and other mammals. The virus is present in some wildlife in Florida and can spread to unvaccinated pets, which then pose a high risk to the pet owner and their family. The main wildlife sources of rabies in Florida are raccoons and bats. Infected raccoons and bats can expose people, pets, livestock and other wildlife to rabies, typically through bites. Outside cats are by far the most common domestic animal found to have rabies in the state of Florida largely because they are often not kept up-to-date on rabies vaccinations. Dogs, cats and ferrets are required by law to be vaccinated against rabies in the state of Florida.
Some actions people and their families can take to prevent from being exposed to rabies include avoiding direct contact with wildlife, not feeding wildlife, consulting with a veterinarian to ensure pets are up-to-date on rabies vaccinations, and supervising pets and young children while outside. If you believe you may have been exposed to rabies, contact your health care provider and your county health department right away. If an exposure occurred, there is effective treatment that can prevent infections in people if administered in a timely manner.
Be sure to report any animal bites or scratches that cause a break in the skin (bleeding) to the Animal Safety, Services & Protection Division (ASSP) no matter how minor the wound may seem. It only takes a very small amount of saliva from an infected animal to transmit rabies. The ASSP will complete a bite report for the incident, check the rabies vaccination status of the animal that bit (if the animal is located) and place the animal on a 10 day quarantine to monitor the animal for signs of rabies. All of this information is reported to the Florida Department of Health (FDOH).
The FDOH recommends you take the following steps to prevent exposure to rabies:
- Avoid direct human and domestic animal contact with wild animals.
- Have your veterinarian vaccinate pets and at-risk livestock, make sure you follow your veterinarian's instructions for revaccination.
- Do not allow your pets to run free. Follow leash laws by keeping pets and livestock secured on your property.
- Never feed wild or stray animals-avoid attracting them with outdoors food sources. Feed your pets indoors.
- If your animal is attacked by a wild, stray or unvaccinated animal, DO NOT examine your pet for injuries without wearing gloves. DO wash your pet with soap and water to remove saliva from the attacking animal. DO NOT let your animal come into contact with other animals or people until the situation can be handled by animal control or county health department staff.
- Educate the public to reduce contact with stray and feral animals.
- Support animal control in efforts to reduce feral and stray animal populations.
- Provide pre-exposure prophylaxis for people in high-risk professions, such as animal control and veterinary personnel, laboratory workers, and those working with wildlife.
- Bat-proof homes.
For more information from the FDOH regarding rabies and prevention, please visit their website: