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Rabies Control Program

What is rabies?

If you have been bitten by a wild or stray animal or think you may have been exposed to the rabies virus, we are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please call our office at (607) 274-6688 to report any bites or potential rabies exposures, or email our office at: 

Owned cats and dogs are usually vaccinated and protected against rabies, so we often respond to these reports during business hours. We are available Monday through Friday, 8:30 A.M.-4:30 P.M. to help with questions about bites from pets, rabies, non-urgent wildlife issues, and pet vaccine clinics. Please contact Tompkins County Environmental Health at (607) 274-6688 for any rabies issues.

The Rabies Control Program provides the following services:

  • Investigates reports of bites from dogs and cats:
    If you have been bitten by a dog or cat, get the name, address, and phone number for the owner of the animal. Contact Environmental Health and report the bite. We will check whether the pet is vaccinated against rabies and arrange a 10-day confinement period of the pet. Click here for more information on the investigation process for cat and dog bites.

  • Investigates reports of bites and scratches from wildlife:
    Certain types of wildlife are more likely to have rabies than others. If you have been bitten by a raccoon, skunk, fox, or bat, contact Environmental Health immediately. Staff are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to respond to these types of calls. Click here for more information about when you should report contact with wildlife.

  • Investigates reports of bats in the home:
    Reports about bats are handled differently than reports of contact with other wildlife. The bats in New York are small, insectivorous (insect-eating) bats with needle sized teeth. Bites from these bats are often hard to see, even when the person was awake and felt the bite. Call us whenever you wake up to find a bat in your bedroom, or when you find a bat in a room with small children, unvaccinated pets, or if the person might have trouble feeling a bite due to a disability, illness, or use of drugs or alcohol. Click here for more information about bats in the home.

  • Organizes free rabies clinics throughout Tompkins County:
    Tompkins County holds rabies vaccination clinics in January, May, September, and October. Online Pre-registration is available and recommended for all our clinics. If your dogs or cats are easily stressed by large crowds, pre-register in advance for a time later in the evening. Your pet will appreciate the shorter lines, smaller crowds, and shorter wait times. Walk-ins are always welcome and will be taken on a first come, first serve basis separate from pre-registered pets. Proof of prior vaccination is required for a three-year vaccination. Ferrets must be vaccinated annually. Click here for dates of upcoming rabies clinics.

  • Works with area medical providers:
    Tompkins County has two locations where most patients receive treatment for a potential rabies exposure. Medical providers can contact us 24 hours a day with rabies questions. If you are a medical provider, click here for more information about reporting a potential rabies exposure.

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Rabies Clinics for Cats, Dogs, and Ferrets

New York State requires all cats, dogs, and ferrets to have their first rabies vaccination between 3 and 4 months of age. Since this is required by law, we hold rabies clinics throughout the year to ensure you are able to keep your pets protected.

  • Ferrets must be vaccinated yearly after the initial vaccine.
  • Cats may receive either a 1-year or 3-year vaccine after the initial vaccine depending on the type of rabies vaccine given and whether proof of previous vaccination is available. We currently use a vaccine that is effective for three years after the initial 1-year vaccination.
  • Dogs receive a 3-year vaccine after the initial vaccine.

Rabies vaccines are licensed for either 1 or 3 years. This means that your pet is considered up to date for the amount of time the vaccine is licensed as long as there is proof of prior vaccination. If a 3-year vaccine is given to a pet with no proof of previous vaccination, then the vaccine is only considered effective for 1 year. People often bring their pets to a rabies clinic and have forgotten their paperwork. The vaccine we use for cats and dogs is licensed for three years, so if you forget your paperwork the night of the clinic, your pet has still received a vaccine that is licensed for 3 years. You can contact us after the clinic, so we can update your records.

Free Rabies Vaccination Clinics for pets

September 14, 2024: Ithaca

  • Date: Saturday, September 14, 2024
  • Time: TBA
  • Where: TCAT Bus Garage.
    NOTE: This is a drive-through clinic.
  • REGISTER FOR AN APPOINTMENT: Registration link coming.


* Dogs must be on a leash or in a carrier. Cats and ferrets must be in a carrier.
* Please bring proof of your pet's most recent vaccination, or information about the location and date of your pet's previous vaccination, if applicable.

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Reporting Guidance

Reporting dog or cat bites

If you have been bitten by a dog or cat, get the name, address, and phone number for the owner of the animal. Contact Environmental Health (EH) to report the bite. Dial 607-274-6688 anytime, 24/7.

  • If you can’t get this information because you don’t know the owner or it’s too dangerous, we will need what the animal looks like, where and when the bite happened. Sometimes you may be able to get a picture of the animal. Any extra details can help us find the biting animal.
  • If you see a doctor for the bite, you should be asked to fill out a report where you can provide this information.

How we use the report

Once we receive the report, we determine whether the cat or dog is up to date on rabies vaccination and arrange a 10-day observation period of that cat or dog. Cats and dogs only shed the rabies virus for 3-5 days before becoming very sick, so any pet that is healthy for 10 days after the bite did not pass the rabies virus to you. If a cat or dog does get sick, we will send it for testing and schedule your treatment quickly, if needed. In most cases, a healthy cat or dog stays at home during the observation period and there is little change to its daily routine. We may have the animal stay at a facility for the 10-day observation, especially when a feral cat or a stray animal was involved in the bite. Our main concern is to protect you from the rabies virus.

If you have concerns about a “dangerous dog,” one that is wandering loose, or appears to be a stray, please contact the Dog Control Officer for your town. These reports must be made separately from a report to your doctor or Environmental Health.

Dog Control by Town


Rabies Vaccination Law in New York

All cats, dogs, and ferrets in New York must be vaccinated against rabies by 4 months of age. Cats and dogs must then be revaccinated every 1-3 years depending on the vaccine used and whether you can show proof of a prior vaccination. Ferrets must be vaccinated annually. This vaccination law makes the risk of acquiring rabies from a cat or dog in Tompkins County and in New York very low. If a pet bites someone and is not up to date with their rabies vaccination, the owner must take the pet to a vet or a clinic and have the pet vaccinated at the end of the observation period. You will not need rabies vaccinations just because the pet that bit you was not vaccinated or up to date on rabies vaccines.

If you were bitten by a pet in another state

If you were bitten by a cat or dog in another state, we will often contact the Health Department in that state and ask for help with the report. Many states investigate bites just like New York and we work with out-of-state Health Departments as needed.

If you were bitten by a pet in another country

If you were bitten by a cat or dog in another country, we decide whether you need treatment based on the rabies risk in the country where you were bitten. The rabies virus has strains, just like the flu. The United States has eradicated the strain most common to dogs, but this strain is prevalent in many Asian and African Countries. Bites from dogs in countries where the canine strain is common are treated the same as if you were bitten by a raccoon or skunk in New York and we were not able to test it. We would recommend immediate treatment for these bites.

If you are planning on travelling to another country, click here to see if rabies is a risk.

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Reporting possible cases of rabies in wildlife

Tompkins County sends a variety of mammals to the New York State Wadsworth Lab every year. Of those animals, 12-18 animals are “confirmed positive,” meaning they were infected with the rabies virus. The most common rabid animals in Tompkins County are raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats, however other mammals can carry rabies. Any bite or contact with the brain or spinal cord of a mammal larger than a squirrel should always be reported to the Health Department. Small animals like mice and chipmunks are so small that they don’t usually survive an encounter with a rabid animal or won’t live long enough to pass the rabies virus to you.

If you are bitten

If the animal is available for testing, we will send it to the lab to determine whether it was infected with the rabies virus. If you chose to kill it yourself, avoid damaging the head of the biting animal. The rabies test uses brain tissue so damage to the brain may mean that we can’t test for the rabies virus. If you need help, we may ask you to call 911 or we may call Animal Control and authorize them to capture the animal. 911 should always be called if you need help quickly because the animal is an immediate threat to people.

If you see an animal out during the day

Environmental Health often gets calls about wildlife behaving “abnormally” or is out during the day. While many animals prefer the peace and quiet of evening and night hours when most of us are at home or in bed, they may be seen during the day searching for food, or if their nest was disturbed. All wildlife should be treated with caution and only handled by professionals or licensed wildlife rehabilitators.

On your property

If you see wildlife on your property and you and your pets have not had contact, let it leave on its own. Bring your pets inside and watch for it to leave. Please do not disturb young animals that are not injured. If you are concerned that a young animal has been abandoned, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator before you approach it.

If you and your pets have not had contact and you wish to have it removed alive, you should contact a Nuisance Wildlife Control Officer. Animal Control is not responsible for capturing nuisance wildlife that has not bitten a person. For a list of Licensed Nuisance Wildlife Officers, click here or contact us at (607) 274-6688.

Nuisance wildlife control

Nuisance Wildlife Control Officers know the laws for removal and relocation of wildlife and are trained to do it safely. It is against the law to relocate rabies vector species like raccoons, skunks, and bats, so these animals must be euthanized if removed from a property for nuisance reasons. There are also seasonal considerations because trapping and removal could separate a mother from her offspring or the stress could cause her to abandon or kill her offspring.

For these reasons, many people choose to make changes and repairs to their property to make it less welcoming for wildlife. Just a few changes will often make the animals move on their own, including a mother safely relocating her nest. Click here for more information on living with wildlife, from a wildlife rehabilitator located in Tompkins County.

What to do if you find sick or injured wildlife

If you find a sick or injured animal and you wish to help, you should always contact a Licensed Wildlife rehabilitator before touching the animal. If you or your pets touch the animal, the rehabilitator may refer you to us before taking the animal to ensure you have not put yourself at risk. Check here for licensed rehabilitators in our area. Do not attempt on your own to assist animals that appear to be sick or diseased.

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Bats in the home

Bats are an important part of the pest control portion of our ecosystem but can also be an unwelcome guest in our homes. Less than 1% of the wild bat population may carry the rabies virus at any time, however the behavioral changes associated with the disease results in approximately 6-8% of the bats submitted to New York State Wadsworth Lab to test positive for the rabies virus. New York State is home to a variety of small, insectivorous bats with needle-sized teeth. Even when the person feels the bite, finding the bite wound can be difficult.

When to call the Health Department

Reports of bats in the home are handled differently than reports of bites from other animals. If a person wakes up to find a bat in their bedroom, or if the bat is found in a room with small children or someone that is sensory impaired due to drugs or disability, Environmental Health requests that the bat be captured and submitted for testing. This is because parts of the body other than the hand are less sensitive and may not be noticed, or a child may be unwilling to tell a parent that they were bitten because they handled the bat and there is no obvious bite wound. If there are any concerns regarding a potential exposure, Environmental Health should always be contacted.

When in doubt, don’t let it out! More info here (PDF)

When to let it go

If there is no concern regarding contact with the bat because the bat was seen when everyone was awake, and no pets came in contact, the bat can be released back outside during spring, summer, and fall months. Open one or two windows or a window and door in the same area and watch for the bat to leave. If a bat is found during cold winter months, it is always recommended to contact a rehabilitator that specializes in bats before releasing the bat.

How to catch a bat

Find a small container with a lid. If you found the bat clinging to a wall, door, or other object, cover it with the container, and slide a piece of cardboard or other thick paper underneath to trap it in the container. Place the container right side up on a table or counter, place the lid over the cardboard and slide the cardboard out from under the lid. If the bat is flying, turn on all the lights and sit quietly and watch the bat until it lands. You can use a butterfly net to catch the bat, but be careful not to get bitten. We do not recommend the use of tennis rackets, baseball bats, or other hard objects. If we determine that there was no exposure, the bat will not be releasable due to injuries. If we do need to test the bat, their skulls are approximately the thickness of the candy shell of an M&M, and the brain may be too damaged to test. Several people in Tompkins County receive post exposure every year for this reason.

If more than one bat has found their way into your home within a year’s time, it may mean that your home needs remediation. Bat Conservation International has excellent tips for remediation if you are the DIY type or contact a nuisance wildlife control company that specializes in bat remediation. Remediation inside your home can happen year-round, but make sure that outside remediation happens only in spring or fall. Remediating in the winter and summer can trap bats inside.

Credit- Bat Conservation International
Bat Exclusion and Capture

  • How to exclude bats from buildings.

  • How to catch a bat (video). Watch below

Or, watch the video on YouTube.

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Rabies for Medical Providers

If a patient comes to you for treatment of an animal bite or reports an animal bite during a visit, you may need to file a report[attach form] with the county's Environmental Health. Any mammal can contract rabies however smaller mammals, like squirrels, chipmunks, rats, and mice, are unlikely to survive an initial encounter with a rabid animal. If they survive the initial encounter, their injuries are generally serious enough that they do not survive through the incubation period. Bites from these animals do not need to be reported.

Animal Bite/ Rabies Exposure Report form (fillable PDF)

Bites from wild mammals

If a patient has been bitten by any wild mammal larger than a squirrel you should ask if they have the animal so that we can submit it for testing. We can get results within 24 hours, Monday through Friday and may delay recommending post exposure treatment until test results are received. We have two facilities in Tompkins County that can provide treatment 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If the animal is not available, the bite occurs during a long weekend when testing may be delayed, or we have concerns about delaying treatment, we will discuss the most appropriate course of action with you and the patient.

Bites from cats and dogs

You may find that the most common bite you see is from a patient’s own pet or that of a family member. Even though the patient knows the animal and the vaccination status of the animal, you will still need to submit a report to the county. We will arrange a 10-day observation period with the patient or owner once we receive the report and call the patient at the end of the 10 days to verify the health of the pet. The only pets that notice a change in their routine would be the pets that are used to being off-leash or taken out in public.

If the biting cat or dog is not owned by the patient or the patient’s family member, we will need all contact information or as much information as the patient is able to provide. Even if the patient does not know the owner of the cat or dog, we will often attempt to locate the animal using the information provided. The risk of rabies is very low with owned animals and it is better to attempt to locate the animal rather than put the patient through unnecessary treatment. Patients often focus on whether a biting cat or dog is up to date on rabies vaccination, but vaccination status of the biting animal is not the deciding factor for whether a patient needs treatment.

When a patient refuses to give information

Sometimes, a patient is reluctant to provide information about the biting animal because they are afraid the animal will be taken away or euthanized. Reassure the patient that the report is only provided to Tompkins County Whole Health and is to protect them from contracting rabies. We will verify the rabies vaccinations status of the dog or cat and we will arrange a 10-day observation period for the biting animal. If the patient still refuses to provide information, let them know that you will still be providing the contact information of the patient to Whole Health's Community Health Services and that we will be contacting them to make alternate arrangements.

Feral versus stray cats

You may have a patient report that they were bitten by a “feral” cat that they have been feeding. While this can sound alarming, we often find that the person was bitten by a stray cat and not a feral cat. Feral cats, by definition, are cats that have not been socialized to humans. These cats may be seen eating at feeding stations that people have put out for them but will otherwise avoid human contact. Feral cats cannot be pet, picked up, and will not willingly enter your home and adopt you as their new family. They are easily frightened, and most feral cat bites occur during Trap/Neuter/Release events. Stray cats are cats that show up at someone’s home or at a feral cat colony feeding station and may rub against people, allow a person to pet them, allow a person to pick them up, or may even waltz into a person’s home and pick their person to hang out with. While these cats may be skittish or easily frightened, they still intentionally seek out human company. Stray cats may have a microchip that can be checked to verify their owner and their vaccine status.

If a patient has been bitten by a feral or a stray cat, we can arrange for a 10-day observation period for the cat at the Tompkins County SPCA. If the cat is regularly seen by the patient, we can also discuss a modified 10-day observation period, where the patient attempts to observe the cat daily to verify it is healthy. Sometimes the patient is not confident that they can identify the biting cat, so we will discuss treatment options at that time.

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Rabies Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if I see wildlife that appears sick, injured, or is already dead?

Avoid contact! All wildlife should be treated with respect. Whether it is healthy or not, encounters with humans or pets are stressful to wildlife. You should always enjoy wildlife at a distance. If there is any concern of a potential rabies exposure, always contact your local Health Department. If there is immediate threat to people, and the animal must be killed, please do not damage the head of the animal. Rabies testing must be performed on brain tissue. If no humans or pets had contact with the animal, go to the DEC Wildlife Health page for information.

My cat never goes outside. Do I really need to get my cat vaccinated against rabies?

Yes! All cats, dogs, and ferrets must be vaccinated against rabies in New York by 4 months of age. Accidents happen. Your cat may take advantage of a moment’s inattention and find their way into the great outdoors. Cats are natural hunters and will often be the first to spot (and catch) a bat in the home. Keeping your pet up to date on vaccinations can mean the difference between a trip to the vet for a booster vaccine or the difficult choice of a 6-month quarantine or immediate euthanasia.

I saw my pet fighting with a wild animal, what do I do?

Avoid touching your pet with bare hands. Saliva from a rabid animal is the main form of transmission of the virus. Intact skin is a very effective barrier to the virus, but any wound on your hand that has bled within 24 hours prior to contact is a potential opening for the virus to enter the body. Wear gloves, use a towel or blanket, or allow your pet’s fur to dry before handling them. Contact with any animal larger than a squirrel can have risk of rabies exposure but, if your pet is up to date on rabies vaccination, a booster vaccination within five days of the exposure will protect them. Environmental Health should be contacted any time a pet is unvaccinated or not up to date and is found interacting with a mammal larger than a squirrel.

My pet came home with wounds, but I never saw what happened. Do I need to schedule a booster vaccination?

Yes. You should always get your pet a booster rabies vaccination if you don’t know how your pet was injured. If your pet is lapsed in vaccination or has never been vaccinated, you should get your pet vaccinated immediately and contact Environmental Health for instructions.

I’ve had multiple bats in my home, is there anything I can do to prevent more?

Any time that someone has repeat bat encounters in the home, we always recommend that you check your house over for ways a bat could have entered. Sometimes a bat can slip if you leave your door open, but often bats enter due to holes in window screens, not having screens in a window, through a fireplace chimney, or even small holes or gaps in the roof or siding. Bats only need a hole the size of a quarter to get into your home. If you find more than one bat in your home in one year, you may have a colony in your home. Contact a professional that specializes in bat exclusion or go to Bat Conservation International for DIY exclusion tips.

I found a baby animal in my yard. What should I do with it?

You should always contact a Wildlife Rehabilitator before attempting to help any young wildlife you suspect might be abandoned. If mom made her nest near your house, it’s because she felt it was a safe neighborhood. Even when the babies are old enough to move around, she may sometimes leave them in an area she believes to be safe while out finding food. A Wildlife Rehabilitator can help you determine whether the animal is truly abandoned and needs help, or whether you should keep all pets inside to allow mom to return to collect her offspring.

Wildlife Rehabilitators in Tompkins County:

  • For Bats: at Wild Things Sanctuary, (607) 200-4100

  • For Raccoons, Skunks, & Foxes: Wildlife Wishing Well, (607) 277-1574

  • For all other wildlife: Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center at Cornell, (607) 253-3060.

  • Or, see a current listing of licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators at the NYS DEC website.

Please Note: Placement at local rehabilitators is subject to space availability. Wild Things and Wishing Well are volunteer-run organizations that are not always able to accommodate an injured animal.

What is Wildlife Rehabilitation? Read about it on the Wild Things Sanctuary website.


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