Harnett County,
North Carolina

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Domestic Dogs, Cats and Ferrets Exposed to Rabies

Domestic Dogs, Cats and Ferrets Exposed to Rabies:

Six-Month Quarantine and Other Measures

Pursuant to N.C. General Statute 130A-197

, when a not-currently vaccinated dog, cat or ferret is exposed to an animal that tests positive for rabies, or is reasonably suspected of having rabies and is either unavailable for testing or does not test negative, then the local health director shall direct the owner to have the dog, cat or ferret euthanized or be placed in quarantine for up to six (6) months by the local animal control agency, at the owner’s expense. The six-month quarantine is not appropriate for hybrids, including wolf hybrids, or for captive wild animals (see pp. 6-9 of Animal Rabies Vaccination: Requirements and Guidelines http://epi.publichealth.nc.gov/cd/lhds/manuals/rabies/docs/animal_vax.pdf in this Manual).

What criteria determine that a dog, cat or ferret is "currently vaccinated?"

A dog, cat or ferret shall be considered currently vaccinated if the primary rabies vaccine was administered more than 28 days before the rabies exposure, or the most recent booster vaccine was current (as evidenced by a rabies certificate or official veterinary record) at the time of the exposure,

and a booster dose of rabies vaccine is administered within five (5) days of the exposure.

Who enforces the six-month quarantine?

The local health director is responsible for enforcing the rabies laws and directing the conditions for the six-month quarantine. The responsibility for implementation is usually delegated to local animal control, which may be under the supervision of the local health director, local environmental health, sheriff’s office, police department or county manager. The quarantine is usually implemented by the jurisdiction of the animal owner’s residence.

Does a currently-vaccinated pet have to be quarantined after a rabies exposure?

No, but the dog, cat or ferret must receive a rabies booster within five (5) days after the exposure to maintain its "current" vaccination status under the law. The animal should be under the owner’s control and carefully observed for 45 days thereafter, as recommended by the Compendium. If not boostered within five days, the animal is no longer considered currently vaccinated and shall be quarantined for up to six months or euthanized, at the discretion of the local health director (§ 130A-197).

Why is the animal quarantined for six (6) months?

Required by N.C. statute, the six-month quarantine correlates with the maximum rabies incubation period in dogs, cats and ferrets.

What are the recommended conditions for a six-month quarantine? Can the animal be quarantined at the owner’s home?

  1. The owner of any dog, cat or ferret exposed to rabies shall immediately confine the animal at a place designated by the local health director and/or animal control (§130A-198). The animal shall be quarantined for no less than ten (10) days and up to six (6) months, or may be euthanized per order of the state Public Health Veterinarian. Euthanized animals may have to be tested for rabies, depending on evaluation of the circumstances.

N.C. Rabies Control Manual – Animal Management: Pets Exposed to Rabies; 6-Month Quarantine February 2013 Page 2 of 2


  1. The owner’s home or other private residence is not a recommended facility for quarantine.
  2. The dog, cat or ferret should be placed in

strict isolation at a facility (i.e., a veterinary hospital or county animal shelter) for the quarantine period. "Isolation" means confinement in an enclosure that prevents direct contact with people and other animals.

  1. A rabies vaccine should be administered to the animal at the beginning of the six-month quarantine. (This is not true of a 10-day quarantine. See 10-Day Confinement of Dogs, Cats and Ferrets that Bite Humans http://epi.publichealth.nc.gov/cd/lhds/manuals/rabies/docs/10day_domestic.pdf)
  2. If the animal is ill at the onset of the quarantine, a veterinarian should examine the animal. If signs are consistent with rabies, the animal should be euthanized and tested for rabies (see #7 below). If an acute or chronic disease process other than rabies is diagnosed by a veterinarian initially or during quarantine that explains the clinical signs, then the animal should be quarantined and monitored carefully at a veterinary hospital by a veterinarian.
  3. Any persons caring for the animal ideally shall have completed a rabies pre- or post-exposure prophylaxis vaccine series. Standard infection control protocol should be implemented when caring for the animal. Impervious gloves should be worn, and a mask and eye protection are necessary if saliva may be aerosolized.
  4. The animal shall be monitored daily by a veterinarian or animal control officer for changes in behavior or health. If signs of rabies develop or the animal dies during the quarantine, and there has been human or domestic animal exposure to the exposed animal within ten (10) days before the onset of symptoms, then the animal shall be submitted for rabies testing to N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health.
  5. Animal control should make periodic unannounced visits to the confinement facility for compliance with quarantine conditions and to examine the animal. After the animal completes the six-month quarantine, animal control shall verify that the animal is healthy (preferably by veterinary examination) and shall officially release the quarantine.

What if the pet is a canine hybrid, feline hybrid, or a captive wild animal?

If a wild animal or canine or feline hybrid animal is exposed to a possibly rabid animal, the exposing animal should be submitted for rabies diagnostic testing, even if the wild or hybrid animal was vaccinated against rabies.

Placing a wild or hybrid animal into a six-month quarantine is NOT permissible because the extent of the incubation period for rabies has not been established through challenge studies in these animals as it has in domestic dogs, cats and ferrets. According to the 2011 Rabies Compendium, other mammals exposed to a rabid animal (or to a potentially rabid animal that does not test negative) should be euthanized immediately. Animals maintained in USDA-licensed research facilities or accredited zoological parks should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis in consultation with local and state public health authorities. Management options may include isolation, observation, or administration of rabies biologics.

It is important to understand that owners of wild and hybrid animals can be very attached to these animals, just as owners of domestic companion animals. Owners of these animals are in a difficult and emotional situation when the wild or hybrid pet bites a human or is exposed by a suspect or confirmed rabies vector. Public health officials should review these incidents on a case-by-case basis with the owner, and the help the owner understand the basis of any decision and the overriding intent to protect the public’s health.

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