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Animal bites and rabies

Animal bites are a public health concern because of the potential for transmission of rabies, a viral infection of the nervous system and brain of humans and other mammals that is almost always fatal. Infection can be prevented by administering rabies immune globulin and a series of rabies vaccine doses.

Rabies is a virus that infects the brain and spinal cord of mammals. Rabies infection is almost always fatal once symptoms develop but can be prevented if treatment is given before symptoms appear. People can get rabies through contact with saliva of a rabies-infected animal. This typically occurs through a bite, but non-bite exposures are also possible (e.g. scratches, abrasions, open wounds, or if saliva of an infected animal gets directly into the eyes, nose, mouth).

Wounds from animal bites and scratches should be cleaned well with soap and water for at least ten minutes. A healthcare provider should evaluate animal bites or scratches and assess the risk for rabies infection.

The first symptoms of rabies generally occur weeks to months after the exposure and are typically like those of the flu, including general weakness, fever, or headache. There might also be discomfort or a prickling sensation at the site of the bite. Within days, symptoms progress to central nervous system signs such as confusion or agitation, hallucinations, and partial paralysis.

If a person is exposed to rabies, an injection of immune globulin and a series of rabies vaccinations need to be given as soon as possible to prevent infection and death.

All mammals can get rabies, but in Washington state bats are the only known source of rabies. Any potential human exposure to a bat requires careful assessment because bat teeth are razor sharp and tiny, so a bite wound might not be noticed. Pets that have exposure to a bat should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

Visit the bats and rabies page to learn more.

Rabies prevention

Be a responsible pet owner

  • Keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs, cats, and ferrets. In King County, all dogs, cats and ferrets must be vaccinated for rabies by 4 months of age and receive booster vaccinations on schedule.
  • Keep your pets under direct supervision so that they do not come in contact with wild animals. If your pet is bitten by a wild animal, or has contact with a bat, seek immediate veterinary care.
  • Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of stray and unvaccinated animals.

Avoid contact with unfamiliar animals

  • Do not handle, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans, uncovered compost bins, or pet food left outside.
  • Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Call animal control, an animal rescue agency or wildlife rehabilitator like PAWS Wildlife Center for assistance with sick, wild animals.
  • Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly.
  • Call your local animal control agency to remove any stray animals from your neighborhood.

When traveling abroad

  • Avoid contact with wild or stray animals, including monkeys and dogs. Rabies is common in parts of Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.
  • Before traveling abroad, consult with a health care provider about rabies risk in the country you are going to. Pre-exposure rabies vaccines might be recommended.

Contact us if you have a question about animal bites or rabies in King County, WA

Public Health — Seattle & King County provides consultation for suspected exposures to rabies. If a person has been exposed to a bat or bitten by an animal and is suspected to have been exposed to rabies, call 206-296-4774. If a pet may have been exposed to rabies or if you want more information about rabies vaccination of pets, call 206-263-9566.

 PLEASE NOTE: Our phone numbers are for bites and rabies occurring in King County, Washington state only. If you are outside of King County, please contact your local public health office or state/provincial wildlife agency for assistance since bat and rabies guidance and control may vary by location.

  • For other counties in WA state, find your Public Health department online or visit the Washington State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife webpage on bats for guidance.
  • Due to an increased volume of calls from Canada, please search for your provincial source by entering the keywords, "bats rabies (province name)". The first search result will likely take you to the correct site for your location.