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Do Rats Carry Rabies?

By Chris Williams on May 25, 2016.

I need to know if a rat bite can transmit rabies. We live in the city and my dog got into a tangle with a rat. I can’t be sure but I think he might have been bitten by the rat. L. V., Boston, MA

First, you should definitely contact your veterinarian and explain the situation. Your vet may want to keep your dog under observation, not because of rabies but because of the possibility of infection from the bite.

Basically, while rats and mice are able to carry the rabies virus in their bodies, they have not been shown to be infected with rabies in wild populations. Rabies transmission from rats is not a concern. The U.S. Public Health Service does not recommend rabies vaccine shots for someone who has been bitten by a rat, and about 50,000 people are bitten by rats each year in the U.S.

No one is quite sure why wild rats don’t have rabies. One theory is that they are so small that they rarely survive an attack by a rabid predator such as a fox, and so do not live to pass on rabies. A woodchuck (ground hog) is one member of the rodent family that occasionally gets rabies and can transmit it through a bite.

Rats Spread Diseases, But Not Rabies

Rats have been implicated in several diseases transmitted to people (and presumably some of these can also be transmitted to pets), but most are transmitted by contact with an infected rat’s urine, feces, or saliva. Rat-bite fever is a rare bacterial disease associated with a rat’s bite.

Other Animals Can Transmit Rabies

It’s important to remember that although rabies is deadly, it is extremely rare. Unvaccinated pets are susceptible to rabies if they are bitten or come into contact with bodily fluids from a rabid animal. A rat bite is not a concern, but in our Northeast region the bite of a skunk, bat, raccoon, woodchuck, coyote, or fox could be a cause for concern.

For more on rabies, check out these Colonial blogs:21

Photo Credit : “Rattus norvegicus 2” | Wikimedia Commons.

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