Rabies: Still a Local Threat to Pets and People

Bats are great! They play a vital role in controlling the insect population of our state, including such pests as mosquitoes, leafhoppers, June beetles, stinkbugs, and corn earworms. In fact, according to a recent article in Nebraskaland, each individual bat can eat up to 125% of its body weight in insects, every night! There are 13 different species of insectivorous bats found in Nebraska  and they can be found in virtually all types of habitats, including urban and suburban environments. Most, however, are uncommon and rarely found near structures. The Big Brown Bat lives throughout the state and is the most frequently encountered bat around homes and buildings; the two other bat species most commonly seen in the Omaha area are the Little Brown Bat and the Red Bat.

Unfortunately, bats are also one of the primary carriers of rabies, a disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system, and which is virtually always fatal to humans and most other mammals. The virus travels from the brain to the salivary glands and is then transmitted through the saliva of the infected animal a few days before its death. While only a small percentage of wild bats are actually infected with the disease, there have been two confirmed cases of rabid bats in Omaha within the past month, and it is important to know how to protect yourself and your pets from exposure. Bats can easily get inside your house through small spaces, and bat bites may not leave an obvious mark. If you awaken to find a bat in your room, or if a bat is found in a child’s room or in the room of a mentally challenged or intoxicated person, the Douglas County Health Department considers this as exposure to a potentially rabid bat. (Adults may overlook and children may underreport the bites of tiny bat teeth.) If your cat or dog chases a bat in the house and comes into contact with it or catches it, this is also a potential exposure concern.

How can you protect your pets? There are several things that you can do:

  • Keep vaccinations current! All dogs and cats should be vaccinated against rabies, according to local laws and your veterinarian’s recommendations. The rabies vaccination is usually first given when your pet is 4 months old, and a booster vaccine is given a year later. Following this booster, additional vaccinations may be required every one to three years, depending on the type of vaccine used and local ordinances. If you’re not sure about your pet’s vaccination status, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. Even indoor cats and dogs that rarely go outside are vulnerable to rabies exposure!
  • Bat-proof your home and surrounding structures on your property. The Douglas County Health Department recommends closing any openings larger than 1/4″ x 1/2″. Pay special attention to outside entry points. You may use caulk, window screens, chimney caps, or stainless steel wool. Doors to the outside should be kept tightly closed.
  • Keep pets indoors whenever possible, and always supervise outdoor excursions. Don’t let pets roam, especially cats!
  • If you find a bat in your home, call the Nebraska Humane Society at 402-444-7800. Do not attempt to catch the bat yourself.
  • If your pet is bitten by a bat or another wild animal, or by a stray cat or dog, contact your veterinarian immediately. A laboratory test is required in order to confirm if the animal that bit your pet has rabies, so if you find a dead bat and suspect your pet may have been bitten, do not dispose of the bat! Contact the Nebraska Humane Society for instructions. If your pet’s rabies vaccination is current, a booster vaccination and/or quarantine may be required.
  • If your pet is bitten by a wild or stray animal and is not current on its rabies vaccination or has never been vaccinated, it may need to be kept under strict quarantine for several months, at your expense. Unfortunately, in some cases euthanasia may also be necessary.

For more information about the rabies virus and how to keep both you and your pets safe, you can download this fact sheet: Rabies and Your Pet

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