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Protecting Your Family & Pets Against Rabies


Rabies is a deadly disease that can affect both humans and animals. Learn about how to best protect your family and pets against rabies.

Protect yourself from rabies

As of September 28, 2022, commercial dogs from countries at high risk for dog rabies will no longer be permitted entry into Canada. To learn more, read the Government of Canada media release (external link).

Remember: don't touch, feed or move wildlife, including young, sick or injured, and avoid animals that are behaving strangely.

If you find a stray animal, report it to your local Animal Control Services:

If you had a potential exposure due to an animal bite or scratch or had contact with wildlife, wash wounds with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately.


Animal bites, scratches or other exposures

If you are bitten or scratched by an animal, follow these steps:

  1. If possible, collect the contact information of the animal’s owner/custodian (their name, address and phone number).
  2. Immediately wash the bite or wound with soap and water for at least 15 minutes.
  3. Apply an antiseptic to the wound.
  4. Seek medical attention from a healthcare provider to assess your risk and discuss treatment options.
  5. Please report an animal bite or scratch to Halton Region Public Health, call 311.

Other exposures include scratches, abrasions, or cuts of the skin and/or mucous membranes (such as your nose or mouth) that have been contaminated by saliva or other potentially infectious material from an animal, including exposures from bats. For more information, please visit the Bats & Rabies page.

Importance of seeking medical attention

Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including humans. The virus can be transmitted from an infected animal through:

  • bites that break the skin;
  • saliva entering an open wound; or
  • saliva entering the mouth, nose or eyes.

Treatment to prevent rabies, if necessary, is most effective if started promptly after the exposure. The need for rabies treatment is assessed by your healthcare provider and will depend on:

  • the type of animal involved;
  • where the exposure occurred (for example, in Halton or while travelling to another country);
  • the reason for exposure (for example, if it was provoked, such as feeding a wild animal, or an unprovoked attack); and
  • whether the animal is a domestic pet whose health and rabies vaccination status can be determined.

What to do if your pet bites or scratches someone

Share your information. Provide the person who was bitten or scratched with your:

  • name;
  • address; and
  • phone number.

Providing this information will help Halton Region Public Health to determine your animal’s health status. This may also help the person who was bitten/scratched to avoid potentially unnecessary medical treatment.

Halton Region investigates animal bites and scratches to prevent and control the transmission of rabies. A Public Health Inspector may:

  1. Contact you to request further details about the incident, your animal's vaccination status, etc.
  2. Visually assess the health of your animal as soon as possible after receiving a bite/scratch report.
  3. Require a 10-day observation period of your animal in your home. During this period, it is important for you to:
    • Limit the interaction between your animal and other animals or persons.
    • Immediately call 311 if your animal appears unwell, escapes, dies or if the animal's behavior changes.
    • Ensure that your animal is not re-immunized against rabies.
  4. Reassess the health of your animal, after the 10-day observation period to ensure your animal is healthy and did not develop any signs of rabies.
These best practices help protect residents and pets in Halton from rabies.

If a person is bitten or scratched, depending on the case, Halton Region Public Health will:

  • assist healthcare providers to assess the level of risk associated with an exposure;
  • provide rabies vaccine to healthcare providers upon request;
  • confine domestic animals (dogs, cats and ferrets) for a 10-day period to observe if they develop rabies;
  • confine livestock animals (for example, horse) for a 14-day period to observe if they develop rabies; and
  • arrange for wild animals to be euthanized for rabies testing.

Owners know their animals best. Halton Region Public Health prefers that animals are confined at home with their owner/custodian to observe any changes in their pet’s health.

Vaccinating your pet

In Ontario, the law requires the vaccination of all cats and dogs that are at least 3 months old. You can be fined for not vaccinating your pet.

Your local veterinary clinic can vaccinate your pet during a regular visit. Vaccinations are effective for either 1 or 3 years, depending on the vaccine used by your veterinarian. Help is available if you are in financial need. Call 311 for details.

Protecting your family and pets

  • Teach children to avoid unfamiliar cats and dogs.
  • Observe wildlife from a distance.
  • Take measures to prevent wildlife from taking up residence in your home or on your property.
  • Do not attempt to relocate any wild animals.
  • Remember to collect animal owner contact information if you have been scratched or bitten by someone’s pet.
  • Report all animal bites, scratches and possible exposures to the Health Department as soon as possible.
  • Keep your dogs and cats up to date with their rabies vaccinations.
  • Don't allow your pets to roam free; keep them indoors at night to prevent contact with wild animals.

Avoid animals that are behaving strangely and report strays to Animal Control Services.

Risk of rabies from squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits

Small rodents (such as hamsters, guinea pigs, rats and mice) and lagomorphs (such as rabbits) are rarely found to be infected with rabies, and have not been known to cause human rabies in Canada.

However, notify the Health Department following an incident with these animals.

Adopting and importing pets from overseas

There are important considerations to remember and follow when adopting and importing pets from overseas to ensure animals and humans in Halton Region and Ontario are protected against diseases such as rabies. While the risk of rabies transmission in Canada from dogs and cats is considered to be low, the risk is considerably higher in many other countries. Access a list of countries recognized by Canada as rabies free for cats and dogs (external link). According to the World Health Organization (external link), rabies infection continues to cause tens of thousands of human deaths globally every year, mainly in Asia and Africa, and in up to 99% of these cases, domestic dogs are responsible for rabies virus transmission to humans.

If you and/or your family are interested in adopting a dog from a breeder, rescue organization, or shelter, there is important information you should consider in order to avoid importing or accepting a sick and/or infectious dog that may pose a risk to the your health, the health of others and the health of other local animals here in Ontario.

There are also animal welfare concerns associated with transporting dogs from overseas. Imported dogs can also have significant behavioural issues if they were not properly socialized and never lived in a home prior to being adopted, which can lead to an increased risk of biting.

Before adopting a dog, especially from another country:

  • Avoid adopting pets from countries considered high-risk for dog rabies(external link) by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
  • Review the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's requirements for importing animals(external link) from other countries.
  • Be aware of the potential issues that may arise after adoption (for example, acute or chronic infectious diseases, unresolvable behavioural issues)
  • Ensure the organization from which you are receiving the dog is a reputable business/source (request references, speak to others who have adopted through the same agency, or consult your own veterinarian)
  • Ask about the dog’s medical history, including vaccinations, deworming, and prior treatment for any diseases or conditions, including injuries or illness. Ensure all medical records will be provided at the time of adoption.
  • Ask about where the animal lived and how it was cared for prior to importation. For example, was it a stray or did it spend time in a kennel / shelter (where it would be exposed to lots of other dogs), was it an owned dog that primarily lived outside (where it would have exposure to wildlife or livestock), or was it an owned dog that is used to living indoors (and would be used to being around people).
  • Talk to your veterinarian about specific disease risks that may be a concern based on the dog’s country of origin, and arrange to have the dog examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible after arrival.

After adopting a dog, especially from another country:

  • To help protect people and pets from rabies, Ontario law (Regulation 567, Rabies Immunization(external link)) requires animal owners to vaccinate dogs, cats and ferrets over 3 months of age against rabies. The vaccine must be administered by a veterinarian registered in the province of Ontario and with a rabies vaccine licensed for use by Health Canada. If you have imported an animal from outside of Ontario, you must ensure it is vaccinated against rabies in Ontario as required by Regulation 567, Rabies Immunization, even if the animal has a current rabies vaccination certificate from another jurisdiction.

Additional precautions to follow include:

  • Have the dog examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible after arrival, in order to detect any signs of active or chronic infection or injury. Your veterinarian can also make recommendations for any additional vaccinations, vaccine boosters, diagnostic testing and additional follow up examinations.
  • Keep the dog segregated from other animals and high-risk individuals (e.g. people who are immunosuppressed, very young, elderly or pregnant) for 2-4 weeks after arrival to monitor for any signs of illness (including infectious diseases) or significant behavioural concerns.
    • Remember that rabies may present in an animal up to six months after it is exposed to the virus from a rabid animal, even if the pet was vaccinated after the exposure.
  • Have a behavioural assessment performed by a professional organization.
  • Adhere to licensing requirements as required by other local requirements.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for regulating the importation of animals, including dogs, into Canada. The importation of animals is regulated to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases, such as rabies, that could have adverse health impacts on local animals and people.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is responsible for conducting inspections on behalf of the CFIA. If an animal is found to be non-compliant with the CFIA's humane transport and/or import requirements, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) may refuse the animal entry or refer it to the CFIA for further inspection.

Breeders, rescue agencies and shelters should review the CFIA's requirements for importing animals(external link) from other counties.  Be aware that new regulatory requirements for importing commercial dogs less than 8 months of age for breeding or resale(external link) (including adoption) came into effect in May 2021.

In addition, these organizations should ensure prospective owners or caretakers of all animals they provide, including imported animals, are given appropriate and sufficient information (see above) to manage any risks to animal and human health.