Zoonotic concern: Rabies in Terrestrial Small Mammals

Key Points

  • Rabies is an acute, disseminated encephalomyelitis of mammals caused by a rhabdovirus.
  • Rabies is a rare cause of human morbidity and mortality in the developed world, however in developing nations it is estimated to cause at least 50,000 human deaths annually.
  • Canine rabies is the most common type of rabies in most of the developing world, while raccoon, skunk, fox, and bat rabies virus variants are present in the United States.
  • Rabies is exceedingly rare among small wild mammals and exotic pets. Among rodents in the United States, rabies is most commonly reported in large species like the groundhog and beaver.
  • Exposure to rabies virus generally occurs via a bite from an infected animal, although infective material can also be introduced into a scratch or mucous membrane.
  • When small mammals are housed outdoors, animals should be kept in double-walled enclosures. The use of wire mesh floors increase the risk of exposure to rabid animals.
  • There is no pathognomonic sign for rabies, therefore infection should be included in the differential diagnosis list for any neurologic mammal.
  • Clinical signs commonly reported in rabid ferrets include ascending paralysis, anorexia, cachexia, bladder atony, tremors, and paresis.
  • Data from ferret experiments supports the recommendation of a 10-day quarantine when ferrets bite people or other animals. There are no similar studies in species other than dogs, cats, and ferrets and it is not appropriate to use quarantine to rule-out the risk of rabies transmission to humans or other animals in other small mammals.
  • The gold standard of rabies diagnosis is direct fluorescent antibody testing of brain tissue; no reliable antemortem test exists.

All mammals are considered to be susceptible to rabies although susceptibility appears to vary by species and viral variant. Rabies is exceedingly rare among small wild mammals and exotic pets. Among rodents in the United States, rabies is most commonly reported in . . .


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References

Blanton JD, Dyer J, McBrayer J, Rupprecht CE. Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2011. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2012 Sep 15;241(6):712-22.

Cappucci DT Jr, Emmons RW, Sampson WW. Rabies in an Eastern fox squirrel. J Wildl Dis 8(4):340-342, 1972.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Protocol for Postmortem Diagnosis of Rabies in Animals by Direct Fluorescent Antibody Testing. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/pdf/rabiesdfaspv2.pdf. Accessed August 25, 2013

Childs JE, Colby L, Krebs JW, et al. Surveillance and spatiotemporal associations of rabies in rodents and lagomorphs in the United States, 1985-1994. J Wildl Dis 33(1):20-27, 1997.

Dowda H, DiSalvo AF. Naturally acquired rabies in an eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus). J Clin Microbiol 19(2):281-282, 1984.

Dowda H, DiSalvo AF, Redden S. Naturally acquired rabies in an eastern wood rat (Neotoma floridana). J Clin Microbiol 13(1):238-239, 1981.

Eidson M, Matthews SD, Willsey AL, et al. Rabies virus infection in a pet guinea pig and seven pet rabbits. J Am Vet Med Assoc 227(6):918, 932-935, 2005.

Fishbein DB, Belotto AJ, Pacer RE, et al. Rabies in rodents and lagomorphs in the United States, 1971-1984: increased cases in the woodchuck (Marmota monax) in mid-Atlantic states. J Wildl Dis 22(2):151-155, 1986.

To cite this page:

Brown C. Zoonotic concern: Rabies in terrestrial small mammals. Sep 14, 2003. LafeberVet Web site. Available at https://lafeber.com/vet/zoonotic-concern-rabies-in-terrestrial-small-mammals/