Information for Veterinarians
Animal Bites in Humans
Regardless of vaccination status, any apparently healthy dog, cat, or ferret that bites a human should be confined and observed for 10 days from the time of the bite under the supervision of the Town Health Officer. It is necessary that the biting pet completes the full 10-day observation period to confirm that they were not shedding rabies virus. The animal should not be vaccinated for rabies during the observation period.
Any illness during observation must be reported to the Town Health Officer. If the animal shows signs suggestive of rabies, it must be euthanized and sent to Vermont Department of Health Laboratory for testing. Veterinarians must call the Health Department’s Epidemiology Program (802-863-7240) before submitting an animal for testing.
Management of domestic animals that bite humans other than cats, dogs, and ferrets depend on the species, circumstances of the bite, epidemiology of rabies in the area, and the animal’s history, current health status, and potential for exposure to rabies. Farm animals, such as horses, cows, goats and sheep, that do not seem sick can usually be watched on site under the supervision of the Town Health Officer or veterinarian.
If the animal becomes ill with signs suggestive of rabies, dies before the tenth day, or if an observation period cannot be completed, consult the Health Department’s Epidemiology Program. Rabies testing at the Health Department Lab should be done to definitively rule out rabies in the biting animal. Rabies testing is only necessary in animals that may have exposed humans, or in animals with high diagnostic probability of rabies.
Pet Exposure to Rabies
Any animal bitten or scratched by a wild animal not available for testing must be regarded as having been exposed to rabies, including bite wounds of unknown origin. All exposed pets should be seen by a veterinarian immediately after exposure for wound assessment.
Dogs, cats, or ferrets with documentation of current or overdue rabies vaccination that are exposed to a potentially rabid animal must be revaccinated immediately and kept under the owner’s control and observed for 45 days. Because rabies is fatal, an unvaccinated dog, cat, or ferret that is exposed to a rabid animal should be euthanized so there is no risk that rabies can spread. If an owner refuses euthanasia, administer a rabies vaccine within 96 hours of exposure, followed by strict quarantine – four months for dogs and cats and six months for ferrets – precluding direct contact with people or other animals. If vaccination is delayed, the quarantine period in dogs and cats may be extended to six months, considering the severity of exposure and length of delay of vaccination. Animals other than dogs, cats, or ferrets should be evaluated on a case by case basis.
Adherence to a regular rabies vaccine schedule is critical to protect animals against recognized and unrecognized rabies exposures.
Read the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention Control (2016)
Review Vermont's Rabies Vaccination Rules
Submit Specimens for Rabies Testing
All specimens sent to the Health Department Lab must be pre-approved for rabies testing by calling the Health Department Epidemiology Program at 1-800-640-4374 (Vermont only) or 802-863-7240 or the USDA Vermont Rabies Hotline at 1-800-4-RABIES. Only high-risk human exposure cases require testing on weekends and holidays; all others will be tested during regular business hours.
Specimens for rabies testing should be sent to the Lab in a rabies submission kit. Rabies submission kits can be obtained from the Lab or from one of the Health Department’s District Offices. Many Game Wardens, State Police stations, and veterinary clinics have rabies kits on hand.
Instructions for Preparing, Packaging and Shipping Rabies Specimens
If there is not a rabies submission kit available, specimens may be packed in double plastic bags with cold packs (never ice cubes) inside a cardboard box, preferably insulated. The specimen must be accompanied by a Request for Rabies Examination Form for each specimen, placed in an envelope and taped to the outside of the box. It is essential that the outside of the box be clearly marked with “Rabies Specimen,” along with the physical address of the Health Department Lab:
Vermont Department of Health Laboratory
359 South Park Drive
Colchester, VT 05446