Delaware Office of Animal Welfare

Rabies Exposure

Delaware Animal Services (DAS) Rabies Prevention Program

DAS enforces Delaware Rabies Control Laws and responds to reports in which a human has been exposed to the rabies virus.  In 2014, over 2,300 human exposures were reported to the Delaware Division of Public Health.  Humans are most commonly exposed to the rabies virus through a bite or a scratch from a mammal, such as a dog, cat, raccoon, skunk, or bat.  Prevention is the best way to reduce the spread of the rabies virus in the community.  Visit the Division of Public Health Rabies website to learn more about rabies and preventative actions you can take.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a virus spread to people from the saliva of infected animals. The rabies virus is usually transmitted through a bite, and once contracted, the disease is fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control, animals most likely to transmit rabies in the United States include bats, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and skunks. Because pets can and do come in contact with wildlife, current rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats are required by law. These vaccinations are key to protecting your pet, you, and the public, from the rabies virus.

It’s the Law:  Dogs, Cats, and Ferrets must be vaccinated in Delaware.

In Delaware, all dogs, cats, and ferrets over the age of six months of age must be vaccinated against the rabies virus.  Upon request by an Animal Welfare Officer, pet owners are required to present a valid rabies vaccination certificate.  If no vaccination certificate can be produced, a fine may be issued.  Additionally, unvaccinated pets that bite or scratch a human will be placed on a shelter 10-day quarantine and the pet owner is responsible for the cost associated with the quarantine.  Most pets that bite or scratch a human and are currently vaccinated can remain in the home for quarantine at no cost to the owner.

Pets may be vaccinated at any veterinary hospital or clinic, including clinics managed by animal shelters.

What to do if you have been exposed to the rabies virus:

  • Wash all wounds thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately even if the wound seems minor.
  • Report the exposure to the Division of Public Health (DPH) at 866-972-9705.  All medical providers are required to report potential human exposure to DPH.
  • Healthy dogs, cats, and ferrets that have bitten or potentially exposed a human can be quarantined and observed for 10 days following the exposure. If the animal remains healthy during this period, it did not transmit rabies at the time of the bite.
  • Management of animals other than dogs, cats and ferrets depends on many factors such as species, circumstances of the bite, the biting animal’s history, and the animal’s potential for exposure to rabies. These situations are managed on a case-by-case basis.
  • If an animal cannot be observed or tested for rabies, as is common with many types of wildlife, treatment may be necessary for the people exposed. The DPH Office of Infectious Disease Epidemiology will assist you and your physician to make that determination.

Report Animal Bites

  • Animal Bites to Humans – Call Division of Public Health – 866-972-9705
  • Animal Bites to Animals – Call Department of Agriculture – 302-698-4630