Ask the Vet

The Rabies Test

Take rabies protection seriously by making sure all cats and dogs are vaccinated. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Victoria G. Myers)

Question: How do you determine if a live animal has rabies?

Answer: The only definitive test is one requiring the animal be euthanized. To rule out rabies, a test must include tissue samples from at least two locations in the brain, preferably the brain stem and the cerebellum.

The most commonly used test for detection is the fluorescent antibody test. Rabies' specific antibody is combined with a detector molecule that binds with the virus and can be detected using fluorescent microscopy. In simple terms, the rabies virus/antibody/detector molecule complex glows under a microscope.

With no test for rabies in a live animal, a vaccination is critical for all dogs and cats. It's the only way to protect them and the people and animals with which they are in contact.