Rabies Symptoms in Animals

By Sean Burgess - seanb@landings.org
Environmental Manager

Skidaway Island had its first confirmed rabies case in a raccoon this year. To read the official Georgia Deparment of Public Health statement, click here. Although rabies certainly does affect humans, it largely is a disease that exists and spreads among animals.                      

Most people are knowledgeable enough about the disease to be wary of an animal that is foaming at the mouth, but there are many other symptoms an infected subject may exhibit. In fact, some rabid animals, including those who have contracted the paralytic or “dumb” form of the disease, never foam at the mouth. Almost all cases of rabies in humans are contracted from an infected animal, so it’s important to know what to look for.

Rabid animals often exhibit the following:

  • Are fully or partially paralyzed
  • Experience a loss of appetite
  • Exhibit strange behaviors, such as snapping at the air or turning in circles
  • Drool excessively
  • Are wild animals that show no fear of humans
  • Exhibit symptoms of pica (eating substances that aren’t food, such as rocks, dirt, or wood)
  • Have sporadic changes in mood or behavior
  • Appear to be restless or aggressive
  • Are obviously disoriented
  • Acquire a change in voice (For example, you may notice a change in the pitch and tone of your dog’s bark.)
  • Are nocturnal animals that wander during the day -- or diurnal animals that start going out at night (please note that if you see a nocturnal animal out during the day it doesn't necessarily mean it has rabies. It could be foraging for food or moving to a new location.)

Rabies typically infects a variety of animals that vary by region. Along the East Coast, raccoons are the most common carriers of the disease, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bats are more likely to transfer the virus to humans. Skunks and foxes also are frequent vectors for the virus, but it has been found in many species, ranging from woodchucks to chimpanzees.

A good rule-of-thumb to follow is if an animal is exhibiting unusual behavior, try to avoid it and contact Animal Control (912-652-6575) as soon as possible. Chatham County Environmental Health (912-356-2160) also may be able to help. Pet owners are strongly encouraged to ensure their pets are properly vaccinated. Check with your local veterinarian for the proper vaccines.

For more information about rabies in animals, visit http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/index.html or https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/raccoons-and-public-health.