Rabies is a disease caused by a virus carried in animals infected with the disease. The most common carriers of rabies are wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, bats, and other rodents. These animals can bite and infect a household pet that could then pass on the disease to people or other animals. Care should be taken to avoid situations that place your pet in contact with wild animals. It is important to know which animal caused the bite because it may need to be observed if it has not received a rabies vaccination. All dogs in the state of California are required by law to be vaccinated against rabies. It is also recommended that cats be given rabies shots. There are still animals, of course, that have not been vaccinated, so adults should caution children to use care around strange animals.

Although the law only requires that dogs be vaccinated for rabies, it is crucial that any cat that goes outside also be vaccinated for the disease. Free-roaming cats are more likely to find small sick mammals than dogs. They could also come into contact with a rabid animal without you ever knowing about it.

The law requires any unvaccinated cat or dog exposed to rabies be quarantined for six months. The National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians recommends any unvaccinated dog or cat exposed to rabies infection be euthanized immediately, another good reason to vaccinate cats. 

All cats that go outdoors should be vaccinated for rabies at 3 months of age, and all dogs should be vaccinated for rabies at 4 months of age. These vaccinations should be repeated as required by the vaccine specifications.

In the United States, bats, skunks, foxes and raccoons are responsible for the spread of the disease. Even though less than 1 percent of bats carry the rabies virus, a bat found on the ground (one that a cat could catch) should be considered sick or injured and therefore a high risk. If you find a grounded bat, don’t touch it. Safely cover it with a box or jar and call Animal Control. You can’t be too careful. Rabies is a fatal disease for both your animal and you.

Any warm blooded mammals can be infected with the virus. Rabid animals excrete the rabies virus in their saliva. The primary means of virus transmission is from the bite of an infected animal. Dogs and cats whose rabies vaccinations are current and are exposed to a rabid animal should be revaccinated immediately and placed in quarantine for 30 days.

The only way to know if an animal that shows signs of the disease is infected is to humanely euthanize it and examine the brain tissue for presence of the virus. Any domestic or wild mammal that has bitten a human or pet and is showing signs suggestive of rabies should be humanely euthanized and the head given to a qualified rabies testing laboratory. With bats and other wild animals that have bitten humans or pets, the same applies even if they show no detectable signs of the disease.

Wild animals, by nature, avoid contact with humans. Never attempt to touch or handle any wild animal -- especially one that does not try to avoid you. This usually means the animal is sick. Do not let your pet or children near such an animal. Report any such occurrence to Livermore Animal Control.