Rabies and Your Pig


Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including pigs. Once symptoms appear, rabies is always fatal in animals and people. In the USA animals that most often transmit rabies are foxes, skunks, bats, and raccoons. Rabies is transmitted through saliva — primarily via bite wounds. But it can also be spread by infected saliva entering an open cut or wound, or contacting a mucous membrane, such as those in the mouth, nasal cavity or eyes. When the virus enters the animal’s body, it spreads through the nerves to reach the brain. Once it’s in the brain it multiplies quickly, and that’s when clinical signs appear. The virus then moves from the brain to the salivary glands and other parts of the body. Animals with rabies may show a variety of different signs. Most of them relate to the effect of the virus on the brain.

Rabies appears in pigs and other animals in two basic forms, dumb rabies and furious rabies. With dumb rabies, animals may appear depressed and try to hide. Wild animals may lose their fear of humans, and appear unusually friendly. Dumb rabies may also cause paralysis, often of the face and neck or the hind legs. With furious rabies animals may become very excited and aggressive. Periods of excitement usually alternate with periods of depression. The animal may attack objects or other animals and may even bite or chew their own limbs.

Rabies cases in pigs are extremely rare in the USA. The largest rabies exposure risk for pet pigs is outdoor housing or unsupervised exercise time where contact with infected wildlife is possible. Pigs housed indoors are extremely unlikely to be exposed to the rabies virus if the other feline and canine household pets have been properly vaccinated.

Although there is no approved rabies vaccine for pigs in the USA, experimentally they have responded well to rabies vaccination by producing significant antibody titers. Pigs are not required by law to be vaccinated for rabies. However your veterinarian can administer the vaccine, electively as an off-label usage, yearly to at risk pigs. In my practice I have used the large animal Immrab vaccine on dozens of pet pigs with no significant adverse reactions. Pigs which are in petting zoos, therapy pigs, pigs that have a lot of public contact or are at risk due to their potential contact with wildlife populations are candidates for receiving the rabies vaccine. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the potential risk and benefits of rabies vaccination for your pet pig.

Dr. Wilbers