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The Florida Department of Health works to protect, promote & improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county & community efforts.

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Animal Risk Assessment

Environmental Health

Any animal, wild, domestic, caged, or feral, that shows signs of rabies typical to that species should be considered possibly rabid.

Most free-ranging wild animals, not otherwise conditioned by artificial feeding, instinctively avoid humans. Those that approach people or their pets and attack should also be considered possibly rabid. For instance, any squirrel that, unprovoked, lunges at a person, bites them and runs off should be suspected of being rabid, even though most rodents are not considered to be at high risk for infection.

All high-risk wildlife species should be considered highly suspect regardless of their health or behavior status, as these animals have been shown to sometimes have virus in their saliva for a week or more before becoming ill and may lack reliable signs of the disease, and/or because of their status as a rabies reservoir or a member of a species which is diagnosed with rabies on a regular basis.

High-Risk Animals: Raccoon, bat, skunk, coyote, fox, otter, bobcat, stray dog, cat, or ferret should be considered as high risk for rabies infection in Florida.

Moderate-Risk Animals: Unvaccinated dogs, cats or ferrets maintained as pets should be considered to be moderate risk for rabies infection in Florida.

Low-Risk Animals: Pet rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, hedgehogs, domestic rabbits, armadillos, opossums, wild rodents, caged monkeys (Herpes B virus should be considered for all macaque monkey exposures), and immunized dogs, cats, and ferrets are considered to be very low risk for rabies infection and seldom require rabies treatment of the exposed individual.

Key Risk Assessment Questions:

• Did the bite break the skin (bat bites may not be clearly visible)?

• When did the exposure occur?

• What is the animal species (low or high risk)?

• What is the animal’s rabies exposure risk (housed inside vs. left unattended outside)?

• If an owned pet, how long have the current owners owned?

• What is the animal’s vaccination status (no history of vaccination, overdue for vaccination, up to date; one previous vaccination, history of 2 or more vaccinations)?

• Was the bite provoked?

• Does the animal currently appear healthy with normal behavior?

• Did the bite involve the victim’s head or neck?

• If a domestic animal, is it available for observation?

• If a wild animal or exotic pet is it available for testing (cases involving valuable or rare
wildlife/exotic pets may be handled differently)?