brown bat

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a virus that infects the central nervous system and causes disease in the brain. Rabies is passed from infected mammals to humans. It is usually passed through the bite of a rabid animal. It is most always fatal once symptoms appear. Human rabies is rare in the United States.

All mammals, including humans can get rabies. In Wisconsin, skunks and bats are the most likely to carry the rabies virus, but it sometimes occurs in dogs, cats, foxes, raccoons and livestock.

Signs and Symptoms of Rabies, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What to Do if You are Exposed to Rabies

  • See a health care provider for treatment as soon as possible.
  • They will treat the wound to help prevent rabies and for good healing.
  • You may need a tetanus shot if you haven’t had one in 5 years.
  • Human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) and rabies vaccine may be recommended.

If a rabies vaccine is recommended, three more vaccines are needed after the first visit. Finish the vaccine series to be fully protected from rabies.

If you have insurance, call your clinic for a care plan.

If you do not have insurance:

  • Urgent care centers are less expensive than the Emergency Room.
  • Call first to be sure they have enough vaccine and are able to see you.
  • At Urgent Care, ask to speak to Patient Resources for help with the cost of the visit and follow-up care. Vaccine companies can help uninsured and underinsured patients. They give vaccine for free to patients without health insurance who qualify. Ask the urgent care if they participate in the program for free vaccine and rabies immunoglobulin. Information and applications, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Call Police and Fire Dispatch at (608) 255-2345 and say you are calling to report an animal bite, or fill out our online reporting form, below.

Report an animal bite
Your report will be sent to an Animal Services Officer, who will follow up with you as soon as possible.

Protect Yourself from Rabies


People do not need to be vaccinated for rabies unless they are exposed to the virus. One of the best ways to protect against rabies is to make sure dogs and cats are current on their rabies vaccines. When your pets are vaccinated, they're protected against getting rabies from a rabid animal, and they can't transmit rabies to you or others.


  • Avoid wild animals.
  • Avoid any animal with symptoms of rabies.
  • Do not approach or touch unfamiliar animals.
  • Block any openings into your house that an animal may get through.
  • Keep tamper-proof lids on outside garbage cans so animals are not attracted to your property.

Protect Your Pets from Rabies


Getting dogs and cats vaccinated is their best protection against the rabies virus. Dogs and cats should be vaccinated when they are five months old, a year later, and then every 1 to 3 years for the rest of their life. Vaccination shots do not last the lifetime of your pet. In Wisconsin, all dogs are required to be vaccinated and in Madison, cats must also be vaccinated.


Keep wild and unfamiliar animals away from your pets.