Rabies - Information for Veterinarians

Rabid animals are found every year in Iowa

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State and local laws require that dogs, cats and ferrets that have bitten or exposed a human to their saliva be quarantined for 10 days regardless of their rabies vaccination status. If at any time during the quarantine period, a dog, cat, or ferret shows signs of rabies, the animal should be immediately euthanized and tested. Please see the following list to determine who enforces in your jurisdiction.

Exposure Criteria

Rabies is spread via the virus-laden saliva of an infected animal through a bite or saliva contact with mucous membranes or a fresh break in the skin. Breaks in the skin or mucous membrane exposure to nervous tissue (brain, spinal cord) of an infected animal also pose a transmission threat. Bites of some animals, such as bats, can inflict injury so minor that it goes undetected. Airborne spread (for example, in a cave with many bats, or in a laboratory through rabies virus or specimens) has occurred. Rabies is not transmitted through contact with blood, urine, skunk spray, or feces of an infected animal.

Animal rabies testing in Iowa

Rabies testing requires examination of the animal’s brain, so the animal should be euthanized without damage to the head. Samples should be refrigerated prior to submission to the laboratory, and freezing should be avoided.

Specimen Packaging

The specimen should be refrigerated during transport.


For animals less than one pound

  • Double bag the specimen
  • Place the specimen in a hard sided container, such as a Styrofoam cooler
  • Place ice packs around the double bagged specimen to keep it cool during transport
  • Include the appropriate Rabies Test Request Form from SHL or ISU
  • Call the appropriate laboratory before departure

For more detailed instructions and for animals larger than one pound please refer to the SHL Rabies Testing Specimen Collection and Shipping Instructions.   PDF

Specimen Transport

If the specimen will not be submitted for testing immediately, it should be refrigerated until transported or shipped. Private carrier (patient, relative, or designee) drives the sample and sample and completed form to the laboratory. Overnight commercial carrier (FedEx preferred) transports properly packaged sample (dead animals only) and completed form. Overnight commercial carrier is the best option if private carrier is not possible.

Recommend calling health care provider

Persons exposed should contact their health care provider to discuss whether PEP is appropriate.

How often should veterinarians get rabies booster shots?

Persons who frequently come in contact with potentially rabid animals, such as veterinarians, veterinary technicians, animals control officers, or wildlife officers, should have a serum sample tested for rabies antibody every 2 years. If their antibody level is less than complete neutralization at a 1:5 serum dilution by the rapid fluorescent focus inhibition test (RFFIT) technique, the person should receive a single booster dose of vaccine.


Iowa HHS provides consultation to help health care providers, veterinarians, and the public to determine whether a potential exposure occurred. Rabies exposure consultation can be obtained from the Center for Acute Disease Epidemiology:

During business hours call: (800) 362-2736

After hours call: (515) 323-4360 (the Iowa State Patrol will contact the person on call)

Additional Resources