How Rare Is Rabies In Dogs In The Us?


Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system and is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. While rabies can infect all mammals, it is most commonly transmitted to humans through dog bites. In the United States, thanks to widespread pet vaccination and public health programs, rabies is quite rare in domestic dogs. Still, it remains a concern when traveling internationally or encountering wild animals.

This article will provide an overview of rabies prevalence in domestic dogs within the United States. It will cover mandatory vaccination and quarantine laws, rabies incidence by state, and prevention strategies to minimize disease transmission. The goal is to educate pet owners and provide perspective on the current rabies threat from dogs in America.

Key points will include: the success of vaccination programs, the very low rate of rabies in domestic dogs, the concentration of rabies cases in certain wild animal species, and the importance of avoiding contact with wild animals and vaccinating pets.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system. It is caused by the rabies virus and is spread through the infected saliva of mammals. The rabies virus is a bullet-shaped virus that belongs to the genus Lyssavirus. Once a person or animal is infected with rabies, the disease is generally fatal if left untreated. Rabies causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, leading to symptoms like aggression, excessive salivation, paralysis, and fear of water. According to the CDC, rabies kills approximately 59,000 people worldwide each year. Most rabies cases in humans are caused by dog bites. Rabies has one of the highest fatality rates of any infectious disease. Less than 30 people are known to have survived a rabies infection after showing symptoms.

microscopic view of the rabies virus


Rabies in Wild Animals

Rabies is most prevalent among wild animals in the United States. According to the CDC, wildlife constitute over 90% of reported rabies cases ( The animals responsible for most of these cases are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes, and coyotes.

Raccoons are the wild animal most frequently infected with rabies in the eastern United States. Around 30% of all animal rabies cases reported to the CDC each year occur in raccoons. Skunks are the primary rabies reservoir in the central United States, while bats are the most significant source of rabies across the nation. Bat strains of rabies can infect other species, including humans. Foxes and coyotes are also common rabies carriers, particularly in states like Texas and Arizona.

Overall, contact with infected wildlife poses the greatest rabies risk for both humans and domestic animals like dogs. For this reason, it’s critical that pet owners vaccinate their dogs and keep them away from wild animals that may carry the disease.

a raccoon, one of the major wildlife carriers of rabies

Rabies in Dogs

Rabies is extremely rare in dogs in the United States. According to the CDC, less than 1% of rabies deaths in recent years have been attributed to dogs. The number of reported rabid dogs has also declined dramatically, thanks to vaccination requirements. In 2019, only 287 rabid dogs were reported in the US, accounting for less than 4.5% of all reported rabid animals.

Mandatory rabies vaccination laws have played a crucial role in reducing rabies among the domestic dog population. The first canine rabies vaccine was introduced in the 1920s, and by the 1940s, most states had enacted laws requiring dogs to be routinely vaccinated against rabies. Today, rabies vaccination rates are estimated to be as high as 90% in dogs. As a result, domestically acquired canine rabies is rare, and transmission from dogs to humans is extremely uncommon.

The US has stringent protocols in place for managing rabies exposure and controlling the virus. When a dog bites a human, it will be confined and observed for signs of rabies. If rabies cannot be ruled out, the dog may be euthanized and tested. Post-exposure prophylaxis is given to the bite victim as a precaution. Rabid dogs are also tracked to identify any possible transmission chains or outbreaks. Thanks to such measures, dogs pose a negligible rabies threat to public health.

Mandatory Vaccination Laws

Most states have enacted mandatory rabies vaccination laws for dogs in order to control the spread of this deadly disease. According to the article “Rabies Vaccination and Exemption Laws for Dogs”, rabies vaccination is required statewide for all dogs over 3 or 4 months of age in 46 states and Washington DC (Source). Only Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey lack statewide mandatory rabies vaccination laws, though some local jurisdictions within these states may require it.

These widespread rabies vaccination requirements for dogs have played a major role in reducing the incidence of rabies in the canine population across the United States. According to the CDC, rabies in dogs has declined dramatically over the past century, with human rabies deaths associated with dog bites decreasing by over 90% (Source). Mandatory vaccination and animal control laws deserve much credit for bringing down rabies rates. By ensuring the vast majority of dogs are immunized, it prevents the disease from spreading through the dog population which protects both dogs and humans.

Bite Incidents

Despite dogs being the main source of rabies transmission to humans, the actual risk of contracting rabies from a dog bite in the US is extremely low. According to the CDC, there were approximately 4.5 million dog bites per year in the United States between 2011-2021, resulting in an average of only 16 rabies deaths annually. This represents a rabies transmission rate from dog bites of less than 0.0000004% (CDC, 2022).

The low rabies risk is thanks to widespread vaccination of domestic dogs and animal control programs. Mandatory rabies vaccination laws for dogs, along with effective treatment protocols for dog bite victims, have proven incredibly successful at mitigating this threat. While any dog bite should be taken seriously, the vast majority will not result in rabies transmission.

Quarantine Laws

In the United States, most states and counties have quarantine laws and procedures in place when a dog bites a person. These laws require dogs to be isolated and observed for signs of rabies for a specified period of time.

a dog under quarantine after a bite incident

According to California dog bite quarantine laws, dogs who have bitten someone must be quarantined for 10 days. This time is necessary to ensure the animal does not develop clinical signs of rabies (source:

During the quarantine period, the dog is kept in isolation and observed closely for any abnormal behavior or signs of illness. This allows time for rabies symptoms to develop if the dog was infected, since the rabies virus has an incubation period of 2-8 weeks.

If the dog remains healthy during the quarantine period, then rabies exposure can be ruled out. However, if the dog dies or develops clinical signs consistent with rabies, its brain would undergo testing for the presence of rabies virus.

Imported Cases

Although canine rabies has been largely eliminated in the U.S., there remains a small risk of importing cases from dogs brought in from abroad. According to the CDC, the majority of rabies cases in dogs from 2008-2017 originated from rabies endemic countries and were imported into the U.S. (León et al., 2021). Strict import requirements help prevent the disease from re-establishing itself in the U.S. dog population.

All dogs imported into the U.S. must meet specific requirements set by the CDC. These include being vaccinated against rabies and having a valid rabies vaccination certificate. Dogs from rabies-free countries must wait at least 30 days from vaccination before import. For dogs from high-risk countries, there is an extended waiting period of up to 6 months after vaccination. Dogs must also be apparently healthy and free of any signs of rabies. These import controls have been effective in minimizing the small number of rabies cases from imported dogs.

import inspection of a dog entering the us


The most effective way to prevent rabies in dogs is through vaccination. The rabies vaccine is extremely effective and protects dogs against the rabies virus. According to the AKC, rabies vaccination is required by law for all dogs in the United States. Puppies receive their first rabies shot at 12-16 weeks of age, with a booster one year later, and then rabies boosters every 1-3 years depending on local laws. Vaccination protects dogs even if they are exposed to rabies later on.

It’s also important to avoid contact between dogs and wildlife that could potentially carry rabies, such as bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Keep dogs supervised when outdoors and do not allow them to roam freely. Do not approach or touch wild animals, even if they appear friendly or injured. Contact animal control to remove stray or aggressive wildlife from your property. Reduce outdoor food sources that could attract wild animals. Keep dogs up-to-date on vaccines to protect them if they are exposed to rabid wildlife. With proper precautions, the risk of rabies transmission can be greatly reduced.


In summary, rabies is rare in domestic dogs in the United States. Based on CDC data, there are typically around 60-70 reported cases of rabies in dogs each year. This low rate is largely due to mandatory vaccination and animal control laws.

However, rabies continues to pose a risk to both animal and human health. Rabies is almost always fatal once clinical signs appear. Therefore, vaccination remains a critical preventative measure. All dogs should receive the rabies vaccine according to local laws and veterinarian recommendations.

While the overall risk is low, pet owners must remain vigilant. Seek prompt medical care if an animal bite occurs. Quarantine animals and monitor for any signs of rabies. Through continued responsible pet ownership and vaccination, rabies can remain a rare disease in domestic dogs in America.

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