Rabies is a disease caused by a virus that is nearly 100 percent fatal in mammals, including humans. The virus is present in some wild animals and can be spread to unvaccinated pets and humans. The rabies virus is found in the saliva and central nervous tissue of an infected animal. The virus is usually spread through a bite or scratch, but also can be passed along when an infected animal’s saliva or central nervous tissue enters an open wound, mouth, nose or eyes of another mammal.
Rabies in Animals
Only mammals can get rabies. Birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians cannot get rabies. The most frequently reported wild animals with rabies in Fairfax are raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats. Rabbits, squirrels, rats and mice rarely get rabies. Cats are the most common domestic animal diagnosed with rabies.
Rabid Animals in Fairfax County
Each year Fairfax County identifies between 40 and 60 animals infected with rabies (also known as "rabid" animals).
Signs of a Rabid Animal
Rabid animals may show strange behavior such as being aggressive, attacking other animals or humans for no reason, or acting tame (this is not a normal behavior in wild animals). Animals infected with rabies may not be able to eat, drink or swallow. As a result, the animal may drool because they cannot swallow their saliva. The animal may stagger or stumble when moving and can become paralyzed. Rabid animals will typically die within a week of developing symptoms.
Protect Yourself, Your Family and Your Pets
- Your veterinarian should vaccinate all your dogs, cats, ferrets and horses against rabies. Make sure to follow their instructions on revaccination.
- For information on low-cost pet vaccines, call the Animal Shelter at 703-830-1100.
- Avoid contact.
- Enjoy wildlife from a safe distance. Do not try and pet wild or stray animals.
- Wild animals should not be kept as pets.
- Keep your pets on your property and away from wild and stray animals. Pets should not be allowed to roam free.
- Don’t feed wild or stray animals.
- Never feed wild or stray animals. Keep all trash covered to avoid attracting animals.
- Feed your pets indoors.
- Report strange animal behavior.
- Do not go near or try and capture an animal that is acting strangely.
- Report the animal for evaluation to the Fairfax County Police Department Animal Protection Services at 703-691-2131.
What to Do if You or Your Family Are Attacked by a Wild, Stray or Unvaccinated Pet
- Immediately scrub the wounds with soap and running water for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Do not try and kill or capture the attacking animal. However, if you have already killed the animal, avoid further contact even though it is dead.
- Write down a complete description of the attacking animal (e.g., location of the attack and current location of the animal, size, color, unique color patterns, if it was wearing a collar and, if so, what was the color, owner contact information) so that the animal control authorities can properly investigate and take action.
- Seek medical attention at your family doctor or emergency room. Your doctor will check to see if you need rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.
- Report the animal attack to the Fairfax County Police Department Animal Protection Services at 703-691-2131. They will help confine or test the attacking animal for rabies.
What to Do if Your Pet Is Attacked by a Wild, Stray or Unvaccinated Pet
- Do not examine your pet’s wounds without wearing gloves.
- While wearing gloves, wash your pet’s wounds with running soap and water. Be sure to wash off all the attacking animal’s saliva.
- Do not let your pet come into contact with other animals, pets or people until speaking with a member of the Fairfax County Police Department Animal Protection Services.
- Report the animal attack to the Fairfax County Police Department Animal Protection Services at 703-691-2131. They will help confine or test the attacking animal for rabies and provide you with additional information about how you will need to watch your pet for signs of rabies.
- Contact your veterinarian to follow up on additional actions needed to ensure your pet’s health and recovery.
Find more resources on our Rabies Information for Veterinarians page.
If you have questions regarding rabies exposures or quarantine procedures, please call 703-246-2433 to speak with the Health Department Rabies Coordinator.
Health Care Professionals
Find more information on our Information for Health Care Professionals page.
If you have questions regarding a patient with a possible rabies exposure, please call 703-246-2433 to speak with the Health Department Rabies Coordinator.
- Rabies Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) Information for Exposed Persons
- Fairfax County Animal Services Division
- Fairfax County Animal Bite Report
- Low-Cost Rabies Clinics
- Fairfax County Animal Control and Care Ordinance
- Rabies Control - Virginia Department of Health
- Information for Families - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Information for Campers and Camp Directors About Bats and Rabies - CDC
- County Conversation: Bryant Bullock, Rabies Prevention (16:56)