To kick off Rabies Awareness Month, the Westchester County Health Department is reminding residents to protect themselves, their family and their pets from rabies. Warmer weather means more time spent outdoors and increased chances for close encounters with animals that can carry the deadly virus, and transmit it through a bite or scratch.

Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler, MD, said: “The best way to avoid rabies is to steer clear of wild animals and strays, bat proof your home and keep your pets’ rabies vaccinations up to date. Discourage wild animals from visiting your yard by securely covering trash cans and keeping pet food and water indoors. Do not approach or handle animals that you don’t know, even if they appear young, injured or friendly. If you are bitten or scratched by any animal, contact the Health Department as soon as possible to be evaluated for preventive rabies treatment.”

Last year the County Health Department tested 327 animals that may have had contact with people or pets. Just 16 were confirmed to be rabid, including eight raccoons, six bats, one bear and a beaver. Nearly 200 people were referred for post-exposure rabies treatment.

Amler added: “It isn’t only wild animals that can be a concern. If you, your child or your pet are bitten or scratched by someone else’s pet, get the name and address of the owner so that the biting pet’s rabies vaccine records can be verified. That way, the bite victim may be able to avoid a series of rabies shots if the pet is up to date on its rabies vaccines.”

To keep bats out of your home, caulk any openings larger than a quarter-inch by a half-inch. Use window screens and chimney caps and fill electrical and plumbing holes with stainless steel wool or caulk. Ensure all exterior doors close tightly. Should a bat get into your home, capture and contain it and call the Health Department immediately at 914-813-5000 if it was in a room with a sleeping person or there is a chance of exposure so that the bat can be tested for rabies. To learn how to safely capture a bat in your home:

Residents who are concerned about an animal behaving erratically outdoors should contact their local police department or animal control officer. To remove an animal from inside your home, a list of certified trappers is available here.

How can you tell if an animal is rabid?

  • Unusual behavior may be the first sign of rabies in an animal.
  • A rabid animal may become either abnormally aggressive or unusually tame.
  • Some rabid animals lose their fear of people and become excited and irritable, or appear passive and lethargic.
  • Staggering and frothing at the mouth are sometimes noted.                                                             

What should you do if bitten or scratched by a wild or stray animal?

  • Wash the bite or scratch with warm, soapy water.
  • Call your doctor or hospital to find out if additional treatment is needed.
  • Report the incident to the health department, 24 hours a day, at (914) 813-5000. If calling after business hours, follow the recorded instructions for reporting public health emergencies.

What should you do if your pet fights with another animal?

  • Wear gloves when handling your pet during and after an encounter with another animal.
  • Call your veterinarian and the animal control officer in your community to report the incident.
  • If you pet is exposed to a suspect rabid animal, try to keep the animal in sight until the police or a wildlife trapper arrives.
  • If your pet bites or scratches someone, confine your animal and call the Westchester County Health Department immediately at 813-5000. There are a few simple procedures to follow so that the injured person does not need rabies post-exposure treatment. Be sure to keep your pet’s rabies vaccines current and contact your veterinarian to verify your pet’s rabies vaccine records.

More information about rabies and its prevention can be found on the Health Department’s website at Residents can also like us on Facebook at, follow us on Twitter @wchealthdept or call us at (914) 813-5000.