Rabies is caused by a virus. The virus is transmitted via saliva contact with broken skin or mucous membranes. This normally occurs when a bite comes from an infected animal.

Most animals can be infected by the virus and can transmit the disease to man. Infected bats, raccoons, foxes, skunks, dogs or cats provide the greatest risk to humans. Rabies may also spread through exposure to infected domestic farm animals, groundhogs, weasels and other wild carnivores. Squirrels, rodents and rabbits are seldom infected.

After coming in contact with the virus, the bitten animal may go through one or all of several stages. If the bitten animal is a skunk it may not show any symptoms at all but could become a lifelong carrier. With most animals, however, the virus will spread through the nerves of the bitten animal towards the brain. The virus is relatively slow moving and the average time of incubation from exposure to brain involvement is between three (3) to eight (8) weeks in dogs, two (2) to six (6) weeks in cats, and three (3) to six (6) weeks in people. However, incubation periods as long as six (6) months in dogs and twelve (12) months in people have been reported. After the virus reaches the brain it then will move to the salivary glands where it can be spread through a bite. After the virus reaches the brain the animal will show one, two or all of the three different phases.

People who have been bitten by a rabid animal are given a series of five rabies vaccinations and a single injection of rabies immune globulin. This treatment is considered to be 100% effective when given within fourteen (14) days of exposure.

If exposed to rabies, flushing a bite wound with soap and water for five (5) minutes will greatly reduce the chance of infection. 


The spread of rabies is controlled most effectively by vaccinating all domestic animals. It is required by law that all dogs and cats in Rock Island County be vaccinated against rabies. State law requires your animal to be vaccinated after the first four (4)months of life.

Rabies vaccinations are available at any veterinarian or animal clinic and at the Rock Island County Animal Care and Control Shelter. Information regarding vaccination fees or clinic hours at the Rock Island County Animal Care and Control Shelter are available online or you can call our office at (309) 558-DOGS (3647) for information. 

All pets must be immunized against rabies at four (4) months of age. This vaccination is good for one (1) year and must be given by a licensed veterinarian. Your pet must then receive an annual rabies booster shot or a three (3) year rabies booster shot thereafter. All cats and dogs are required by law to have a rabies vaccination. Be sure to keep a copy of your last vaccination so you will know when the next one is due.

The veterinarian, or one of the staff members, will provide you with a certificate as proof that your pet has been vaccinated. Most of the time, a copy of that certificate will also be sent to the Rock Island County Animal Control Office and a copy will stay at the office or clinic that administered the vaccine. 

More about the Rock Island County Animal Care and Control Clinical Services.