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Animal Bites and Rabies

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):


What is the role of Bethlehem’s Animal Control?

The role of the animal control officer in the City of Bethlehem is to:

  • Enforce Pennsylvania Dog Laws
  • Transport stray domesticated dogs and cats to the local animal shelter
  • Respond to instances where bats are found in a City of Bethlehem home
  • Assist Bethlehem Health Bureau staff in ensuring compliance in animal exposure investigations
  • Issue citations to owners who are non-compliant with PA Dog Laws and City of Bethlehem ordinances that relate to animals and animal ownership.

How do I relinquish (give up) my cat or dog?

If the owner of a domesticated dog and/or cat chooses to relinquish (give up) their animal, they are responsible for locating and contacting a local animal shelter to surrender their animal to.


Where can I find information on PA Dog Laws and animal-related City of Bethlehem ordinances?

For information regarding PA Dog Laws:

PA Department of Agriculture - PA Dog Laws

Please note that the Pennsylvania Rabies Prevention and Control in Domestic Animals and Wildlife Act mandates that all domesticated dogs and cats over the age of three months be vaccinated against rabies.

In the State of Pennsylvania, all dogs three months of age or older must be licensed. This license must be renewed at the beginning of every calendar year.

For information regarding City of Bethlehem ordinances relating to animals:

Article 1159 Article 1160
Article 941.06 (c) Article 941.02 (c)
Article 717.01 Article 921.02 (a)

What should I do if I receive a bite or scratch from a domesticated, wild or stray animal?

In Pennsylvania, when a person seeks medical treatment from a doctor, hospital, school nurse, or other medical professional for an animal bite, scratch, or general exposure, by law the incident must be reported to the local health bureau. Citizens may also directly contact the Bethlehem Health Bureau to report an animal exposure.

The Bethlehem Health Bureau investigates all reported animal bites, scratches, and other types of exposures, where the offending domesticated animal resides in the City of Bethlehem or, in the event the animal is wild or a stray, when the incident occurs in the City of Bethlehem. The purpose of the investigation is to assure the health of the animal, thereby ensuring the health of the victim.

Animal Owners:
In an investigation, owners of domesticated dogs and cats are required to provide proof that their animal is up to date on its rabies vaccine. All domesticated dogs and cats over the age of three months residing in Pennsylvania must be kept up to date on rabies vaccine. In addition to providing the animal’s rabies vaccination information, owners are required to quarantine their dog or cat for a period of ten days, as an additional measure to assure the health of the animal.

Victims:
Victims of animal bites, scratches, and other exposures should seek medical attention and verify:

  • the identity of the animal
  • the animal owner’s name & address
  • that the animal appears to be in good health
  • that it has been vaccinated for rabies and where it received that vaccine

It is imperative that victims provide this information to the Bethlehem Health Bureau to ensure that a thorough and accurate investigation is conducted

Stray Animals:
If the offending animal is a stray cat or dog, it is important that the victim attempt to identify the person responsible for the animal or contact the Bethlehem Police Department at 610-865-7187, so that appropriate confinement measures can be taken to ensure the animal did not have the rabies virus in its saliva at the time of the bite. If the animal is seen again roaming free, contact the Bethlehem Police to report the animal running loose. Please let the police know that the animal has bitten someone so they can attempt to capture and appropriately quarantine the animal. The victim should initially verify that the stray animal appears to be in good health. If you become aware that the animal shows signs of illness, change in its usual behavior, or dies, you should contact a veterinarian and the Bethlehem Health Bureau immediately at (610) 865-7087.

If the stray cat or dog cannot be confined and observed for ten days and there is no proof that it had been protected with rabies vaccination, it is advisable that the person exposed receive the rabies post-exposure prophylaxis by arrangement with a hospital emergency department.

Wild Animals:
Victims that were bitten or scratched by a wild animal and the animal was captured and sent for rabies testing will be contacted by a representative from the Bethlehem Health Bureau with the rabies test results and follow up recommendations. If the wild animal was not captured and sent for rabies testing, it is recommended that the victim receive the rabies post-exposure prophylaxis, which can be obtained only from a hospital emergency department.


What should I do if my cat or dog is bitten by another animal?

If your domesticated dog or cat is bitten by another animal, whether it is domesticated, stray, or wild, you should seek the advice and/or care of a veterinarian for appropriate follow-up. When an animal is bitten by another animal and there is no human exposure, the incident is not reportable to the Bethlehem Health Bureau.


What should I do if I believe a bat bit or scratched me, or if I find a bat in my home?

Wild mammals, such as bats, can have rabies and may transmit it to people. Not all bats carry rabies, however, if you have been exposed to a bat, it is imperative that you take the necessary steps to determine what type of exposure occurred and what the appropriate response should be. Below are the most common examples of human interactions with bats:

If you woke up to find a bat in your bedroom, or any room that you were sleeping in, you should attempt to safely capture the bat and bring it to a veterinarian so that it can be humanely euthanized and sent for rabies testing. If the bat tests positive for rabies, it is recommended that you receive rabies post exposure prophylaxis, as you may have been bitten or scratched by the bat in your sleep.

If you were awake and received a bat bite, scratch, or if the bat’s saliva got into your eye, nose, mouth, or wound, the affected area should be washed thoroughly and medical advice should be sought. The offending bat should be humanely euthanized by a veterinarian and tested for rabies. If the bat tests positive for rabies, it may be recommended that you receive rabies post exposure prophylaxis.

If you entered a room in your home and found a bat but did not have any contact with it, you were most likely not exposed. In this situation you could open a window and close all doors in that room and the bat will most likely fly out on its own. You may also attempt to safely remove the bat and release it outside. Please note that you cannot get rabies just by seeing a bat in your home or coming into contact with bat guano (feces), urine, or blood.

Please note that bats are considered protected mammals in the State of Pennsylvania, therefore it is illegal to kill or harm a bat.

To safely capture a bat:
Information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  1. Find a small container like a box or a large can, and a piece of cardboard large enough to cover the opening in the container. Punch small air holes in the cardboard.
  2. Put on leather work gloves. When the bat lands, approach it slowly and place the container over it. Slide the cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside.
  3. If you are certain there’s been no contact between the bat and any people or pets, carefully hold the cardboard over the container and take the bat outdoors and release it away from people and pets.
  4. If there’s any question about contact between the bat and people or pets, you want to save the bat for testing. Tape the cardboard to the container, securing the bat inside and then contact your health department to have the bat tested for rabies.

What should I know about rabies?

Rabies is a preventable viral disease most frequently transmitted through the bite of a rabid mammalian animal. The saliva of an infected animal that comes in contact with an open wound, a fresh abrasion or scratch, or the eye, can also transmit rabies. Rabies can also be transmitted through infected brain and nervous system tissue. It is important to note that you can only get the rabies virus by coming in to contact with the aforementioned body excretions and tissues. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system (CNS), and ultimately causes disease in the brain and death.

If you have come in contact with an actual or suspected rabid animal’s saliva or brain/nervous tissue, it is important that you seek medical attention for appropriate follow-up and care. Based on the type of exposure that occurred, your doctor or the health bureau may recommend that you receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

Raccoons, skunks, bats and groundhogs are among some of the high-risk group of wild animals to transmit the virus. Unvaccinated cats and dogs are a threat to spread the disease, as they have frequent contact with humans and animals, both wild and domestic.


What if I have additional questions about animal bites and rabies?

If you have read through all of the above information pertaining to animal bites and rabies and have additional questions, please contact:
The Bethlehem Health Bureau:
Monday-Friday 8:00am-4:30pm
Phone: (610) 865-7083

If you require assistance during hours when the Bethlehem Health Bureau is closed, including weekends, please contact the Bethlehem Police Department’s non-emergency number.

Bethlehem Police Department Non-Emergency Number:
(610) 865-7187

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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