Management of Animals with Rabies as Differential Diagnosis (Rabies Suspects)
VTH Policy # Rabies 10105
Implementation Date: 11/01/2022
Date of Last Revision: 11/29/2022
Next Review Due: 11/28/2025
Reviewed by VTH Administrative Team: 11/1/2022
Reviewed and Approved by VTH Board / Hospital Director: 9/9/2022
Reviewed by Legal Counsel: N/A
Reviewed by Biosecurity Subcommittee: 9/28/2022
Subject to modification by the Biosecurity Subcommittee of the CVM Environmental Health and Safety Committee without approval.
Rabies will be considered as a differential diagnosis for animals presenting with signs consistent with a rabies infection. Signs may include but are not limited to, unexplained neurological deficits, stuporous mentation, aggressive or inappropriate behavior for the species, excessive drooling, and difficulty swallowing.
Management of animals that have rabies as a differential diagnosis will be determined by the animal’s species, vaccination status, medical condition, and whether the animal has potentially exposed a human or other animal to the rabies virus.
Illinois State law and Champaign County ordinances will be observed when handling bite incidences and suspected rabies cases at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH).
Wild skunks and bats will not be accepted by the VTH or Wildlife Medical Clinic due to their status as primary rabies vector species in Illinois.
Other mammalian wildlife and feral mammals with no evidence of ownership showing signs consistent with rabies shall be euthanized. If any of these animals has been involved in known exposure to a human or domestic animal, the cadaver may be submitted to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL) for rabies testing at the discretion of the county animal control in which the bite occurred.
If an animal is suspected of rabies infection, and the animal dies or is euthanized, Champaign County Animal Control shall be notified, regardless of where animal originated.
If an animal is suspected of rabies infection and has had known exposure to a human or domestic animal, Champaign County Animal Control shall be notified.
All appropriate safety precautions, including limiting animal handling, use of personal protective equipment, and segregated animal housing for the patient, should be used when rabies is a differential diagnosis for a patient of the VTH.
Unless otherwise indicated in the medical record, livestock will be considered unvaccinated against rabies.
Rabies as a differential diagnosis must be clearly indicated and communicated internally for any animal being handled by VTH services and/or submitted to the VDL for rabies testing.
Please see spreadsheet database for contact information for other counties.
Animal Control Directory Database
Champaign County Animal Control
(217)384-3798, M-F 8am-5pm
(217)333-8911, after hours
Procedure (if applicable)
When rabies infection is included in the differential diagnosis for a patient, all caution must be exercised to minimize or prevent potential exposure of humans or other animals to the suspect animal.
Management of Rabies Suspect Owned Animal
Champaign County Animal Control and Champaign-Urbana Public Health District officials will be consulted and will render recommendations or mandates as appropriate.
The following decision tree will be used for small and large owned domestic animals:
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Owned domestic animals that are not vaccinated for rabies, or whose owner(s) cannot produce proof of rabies vaccination upon request, will be considered unvaccinated against rabies.
A previously vaccinated animal with an expired booster vaccination status is considered vaccinated immediately after being administered a booster vaccine. Unowned domestic animals, such as unclaimed strays and feral dogs and cats, will be considered unvaccinated against rabies.
Zoological species, including native wildlife species that are legally owned, are considered unvaccinated for rabies, regardless of immunization history, except for ferrets.
Management of Rabies Suspect Wild Animal
Free-living wildlife will be considered unvaccinated against rabies.
Champaign County Animal Control and Champaign-Urbana Public Health District officials will be consulted and will render recommendations or mandates as appropriate in the event of potential rabies exposure between wildlife and humans or domestic animals. For incidents occurring outside of Champaign County, the Animal Control office and/or county Public Health officials for that county should be consulted.
- Wild carnivores that present a higher risk of rabies transmission (E.g., coyote, raccoon, mink, bobcat, fox, other carnivore) that expose a person or domestic animal to the potential for rabies may be euthanized and submitted for rabies testing at the discretion of the local county animal control office, regardless of the presence of clinical signs associated with rabies.
- Wild herbivores and omnivores that present a low risk of rabies transmission (E.g., rabbits, squirrels, Virginia opossums, ground hogs, other rodents) that expose a person or domestic animal to the potential for rabies should be assessed for signs associated with rabies (E.g., neurological signs including ataxia, stupor, paralysis).
a. If neurologic signs are present, the animal may be euthanized and submitted for rabies testing at the discretion of the local county animal control office. If presenting after hours/on weekends, animal should be transferred to Wildlife Medical Clinic for management until animal control is contacted.
b. If neurologic signs are not present, the animal should be triaged and transferred to the Wildlife Medical Clinic for additional care and monitoring, as appropriate.
- Birds, reptiles, and amphibians do not pose a significant risk for rabies exposure and should be transferred to the Wildlife Medical Clinic as appropriate.
The following decision tree will be used for rabies suspect free-living wildlife (skunks and bats are not accepted at the VTH, and shall be admitted directly to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL)
Definitions (if applicable)
Rabies Exposure (bite) – Potential rabies exposure occurring when an animal or person is seized by the teeth or jaws of a suspect rabies infected animal so that the person or animal seized has been nipped, gripped, wounded or pierced.
Exposure (non-bite) – Saliva, salivary tissue or neurological tissue from a rabies suspect is in contact with open wounds or mucous membranes through aerosolization or direct contact.
Free-Living Wildlife – A native animal living in its natural, undomesticated state.
High Risk for transmission – Mammalian carnivores are most often infected with rabies in the United States and pose a significant risk for transmission of rabies. Wild carnivores, including skunks and bats, are considered primary rabies vector species in Illinois.
Low Risk for transmission – Herbivorous and marsupial mammals, and non-mammalian species present a low risk for rabies transmission.
Owned Animal – An animal that is legally maintained in captivity by an owner.
Rabies – A fatal viral zoonosis and a serious public health threat. All mammals are believed to be susceptible to the disease. Rabies is rare in properly vaccinated animals. Usually transmitted through bites from animal to animal or from animal to human, rabies can be shed in the saliva of infected animals for days prior to onset of clinical signs and associated illness.
Rabies Suspect – An animal (generally mammalian) that is showing signs consistent with rabies infection, an animal that has had known exposure to a confirmed rabies positive animal, or an unvaccinated mammal that presents a high risk of rabies transmission and that has exposed another animal or person through a bite or other form of exposure.
Stray – Any animal that is lost, abandoned, unclaimed by any person, or wandering at large.
Unvaccinated - Owned animals that have not been vaccinated against rabies or for which the rabies vaccine is considered off-label use are considered unvaccinated. All stray and free-living wild animals are considered unvaccinated.
Vaccinated - A domestic animal is considered vaccinated against rabies 30 days after receiving the initial vaccine. A previously vaccinated animal with an expired booster vaccination status is considered vaccinated immediately after being administered a booster vaccine.
Zoological Species – Non-native wildlife species (e.g. zoo collection) and native wildlife species that were bred in captivity (e.g. fur animal breeders) that are maintained in captivity with legal ownership. Wildlife-domestic animal hybrids are considered zoological species with regards to immunization status.
Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH): The collective clinical services of the Large Animal Clinic, Midwest Equine, the Small Animal Clinic, and the Veterinary Medicine South Clinic.