​​​Disease Basics

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system. It is transmitted from infected animals to other animals and humans. The exposure is nearly always through a bite, but rabies can also be transmitted if a rabid animal scratches a person or if i​ts saliva comes into contact with broken skin.

All mammals are susceptible to rabies. In Wisconsin, skunks and bats are the most likely animals to carry the rabies virus, although rabies also has occurred sporadically in dogs, cats, foxes, raccoons and livestock.​​​​


There are many ways that you can prevent the transmission of rabies, some of which are:

  • Vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and other animals against rabies.
  • Enjoy wildlife from a distance.
  • Do not let pets roam free.
  • Cover garbage cans securely and do not leave pet food outside.
  • Prevent bats from entering your home. If you find a bat in your home, follow these instructions to catch the bat.

Clinical Signs of Illness

Signs of rabies are difficult to detect in wild animals because initial signs are subtle.  A family pet might exhibit the following initial signs:

  • Abnormal behavior
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Scratching at the bite
  • Sound of the bark changes

As the disease progresses more noticeable signs begin to emerge, including:

  • Agitation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Craving unusual things
  • Confusion
  • Restlessness

Finally, the virus begins to have severe effects on the central nervous system and the animal will show signs of paralysis, such as:

  • Inability to swallow
  • Throat paralysis
  • Choking
  • Dropped lower jaw
  • Excessive drooling and foaming saliva
  • Changes in gait or how they walk

As the paralysis spreads throughout the animal's body, they become unable to move. The result is a progression from seizure to coma to death.