Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. It kills almost any mammal or human that gets sick from it. The rabies virus lives in the saliva and brain of rabid animals. It can be transmitted through a bite or by getting saliva or brain tissue in a wound or in the mouth.
Only mammals get rabies: bird, fish, reptiles, and amphibians do not. Skunks, bats, foxes, raccoons, dogs, cats and some farm animals are most likely to get rabies. Rabbits, squirrels, rats and mice, and pets like gerbils and hamsters seldom get it.
Rabies can be prevented in cats, dogs, and some livestock with a rabies vaccination. For most wild and exotic animals, there are no rabies vaccines available that have been shown to protect them. A vaccine is available for ferrets, but because not enough is know about how rabies affects them, even vaccinated ferrets may still have to be killed and tested if they bite someone or get exposed to a rabid animal.
Because of improved rabies vaccination programs for pets and better treatment for people who are bitten, rabies cases among humans in this country are rare. The best way to prevent the spread of rabies to humans is by keeping pets properly vaccinated.