Rabies is a very serious viral infection of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) that can affect all warm-blooded animals. The virus is excreted in the saliva of an infected wild animal such as a raccoon, fox, skunk, or groundhog.
However, less commonly talked about are infected bats that inadvertently fly inside houses. Every once in a while we have a client who experiences a bat in their house that has interacted with their pet and calls us for advice.
Our suggestion is if you see a bat fly into your house through a door or window, and you are sure it has not been in contact with any person or pet in your household, you can certainly try to chase it back out as soon as possible with a long handled instrument such as a broom. Do not touch the bat. Otherwise, you can try to contain the bat in one room behind closed doors and call Animal Control for assistance.
Word of caution:
If the bat has touched any person, or if there is a chance that your cat (or dog or ferret) may have touched the bat or has been playing with it before you discovered it, do your best not to let the bat escape.
A risk assessment needs to be performed in this case to determine if the amount of contact with the bat could have been enough to transmit the rabies virus. If the answer is no, the bat can then be released. However, if the answer is yes, then it is very important to keep the bat so it can be tested for rabies. Your pet must then be quarantined as well.
Our best advice: Stay current on your pet’s rabies vaccines
Even though your cat may never go outside, the day may come when the pet escapes through an open door and gets out by accident. And in the case of bats, one entering your home is not unheard of. Even those with pet doors who allow pets in and out can be at risk if a wild animal suffering from rabies enters the home through the pet door. This also is not unheard of.
Please allow your pets (both indoor and out) to be vaccinated for rabies by a veterinarian on a regular basis. Please follow your vet’s advice to stay current and keep records. Vaccination is by far the best insurance for preventing rabies in your pets and avoiding unpleasant, long and difficult quarantine periods. If infected, once signs and symptoms of illness appear (usually 2-12 weeks following the bite), there is no cure or treatment for the disease. Better to be safe than sorry.
Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital