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What should I do if a neighborhood dog or cat bites me?

You should seek medical evaluation for any animal bite, including a cat or dog bite. One of the main reasons in addition to cleaning and dressing the wound is to screen for rabies. Rabies is uncommon in dogs, cats, and ferrets in the U.S, and bites by these animals carry a very low risk. If the cat (or dog or ferret) appeared healthy at the time you were bitten, it can be confined by its owner for 10 days and observed. in most cases, no preventive antirabies treatment is needed. and no person in the U.S. has ever contracted rabies from a dog, cat, or ferret that was then quarantined for 10 days without showing signs of the disease.

If a dog, cat, or ferret appears ill at the time it bites you or if it becomes ill during the 10-day quarantine, it should be evaluated by a veterinarian for signs of rabies. You should also seek medical advice about the need for antirabies treatment.

The 10-day quarantine period is a precaution against the remote possibility that an animal may appear healthy but actually may be sick with rabies. From numerous studies conducted on rabid dogs, cats, and ferrets, we know that the rabies virus that's introduced into a muscle travels from the site of entry to the brain by moving inside nerves. During this period (known as the incubation period), the animal does not appear ill. Incubation may last for weeks or even months. A bite by the animal during this period does not carry a risk of rabies because the virus is not yet in the animal's saliva. Only late in the disease, after the virus has reached the brain and multiplied there to cause an inflammation does the virus move on to the salivary glands and saliva. After the virus has multiplied in the brain, almost all animals show the first signs of being sick with rabies. Most of these signs are obvious to even an untrained observer. Then within a short period of time, usually three to five days, the virus will have caused enough damage to the brain that the animal will show unmistakable signs of rabies. When the dog doesn't show these signs during the quarantine period, it's fairly safe to assume that it was not sick enough to pass the rabies on with its bite.