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Spring wildlife brings rabies caution

April 26, 2023
Contact: Natalie Shelton
(706) 302-6707

Spring wildlife activity brings rabies caution

The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing—and furry critters are making their presence known as they emerge from their dens and burrows to enjoy the warm weather and search for food. As spring is mating season for wildlife, that also means their habits and demeanor can change as they care for, feed, and protect their young.

The spring breeding season also is a time when rabies spreads more among wildlife. Kelly Wilson, Spalding County’s environmental health manager with District 4 Public Health, said it’s a good time to make sure pets are up to date on their rabies vaccinations and to be sure to keep a healthy distance from our four-legged friends from the wild.

The virus that causes rabies spreads through contact with saliva or brain tissue from an infected animal, but the virus cannot penetrate unbroken skin. It most often spreads through the bite of an animal infected with the disease. Though less common, the virus also can spread when infectious saliva comes in contact with a scratch or open wound (potentially through licking) or in contact with the eyes, nose and mouth.

Several behavioral and physical signs can be possible indicators of rabies. Abnormal behaviors might include erratic movements, shaking, stumbling, moving sluggishly or lethargically, or acting aggressive towards people or pets. Other signs can include looking agitated or disturbed, repeated high-pitched vocalization, nervous for unknown reasons, partial paralysis, discharge from the mouth and eyes, or self-mutilation (biting itself).

However, while they’re tending to their young, sometimes their protective behaviors can be mistaken for rabies signs and symptoms. They may venture out more during the daytime to find food at this time of year when they normally are nocturnal, for instance, and they may appear bold and aggressive because they’re afraid or they think their babies may be in danger.

Whether the animal looks healthy or sick, don’t approach it. If it appears to be sick, overly aggressive, or out of character, call the City of Griffin Animal Control at (770) 229-6450 or the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division at (800) 366-2661.

Raccoons are the most common wild animals that contract and pass on rabies, comprising about 35 percent of all animal rabies cases in the U.S. Skunks, coyotes, foxes, bats and feral cats also are known transmitters of the disease. Opossums and rodents are less likely to have rabies but could still pose a threat.

Georgia law requires owned dogs, cats, and ferrets to have a rabies vaccination from a licensed veterinarian.

Keeping up with the required state rabies vaccination law also keeps your pet safe in the event it bites a person, said Melinda Knight, director of Environmental Health for District 4 Public Health. If your pet bites a human and you cannot prove its rabies vaccine is current, the law may require a 10-day quarantine for your pet, or even euthanasia so its brain tissue can be examined for signs of rabies.

Report any direct contact with your pet to Animal Control or the Spalding County Environmental Health Office at (770) 467-4230.

For more information about rabies, please contact your local animal control office, county environmental health office, or visit