Avoiding Problems with Bats

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 4:55am

Minimizing Risks of Rabies Exposure to you and your Pets

Bats are a vital part of our natural ecosystem. One nursing mother bat can eat more than her own body weight's worth of insects every night - which can be as much as 4,500 bugs, including mosquitoes. However, one of the problems that we have with bats (aside from fear) is when a bat winds up in our living space. Late summer is when these unwanted contacts become a bigger problem because the young bats born in the spring are now old enough to take to the air in search of food and new places to live.

The other problem comes with the fact that bats can be infected with rabies, and in Wisconsin, they are the main carriers of that disease. Even though a very small percentage of bats actually carry rabies, the risk of exposure is more significant because rabies is fatal if left untreated.

Dogs and especially cats, like to catch bats during the night. If this happens, it is very important to not dispose of the bat so it can be tested for rabies. This makes it especially important to make sure that your pets have up-to-date rabies vaccinations. If you believe that your pet has been exposed to a bat, call Animal Services (at the number below) and/or your vet. Previously vaccinated pets should get a rabies booster shot ASAP and put in home quarantine for 60 days. Unvaccinated animals should be home quarantined for 160 days and then vaccinated for rabies.

Another pet-related issue is that many cat owners with indoor cats do not vaccinate their cats against rabies because they don't go outside. This decision becomes a problem when a bat works its way into your house, and your nocturnal kitty is able to catch and eat the bat while you are sleeping. This means that indoor cats should be vaccinated as well.

During this summer season, Public Health - Madison and Dane County's (PHMDC) Animal Services operation has collected and submitted 120 bats to the State Lab of Hygiene for analysis. Of those 120 bats, 3 have tested positive for rabies. There have been 23 positive for rabies bats in the State of Wisconsin so far in 2012. Dane County has had 3 positives, and Columbia County has had 5 positives.

The other concern with bats that find their way into your home is the possibility that they could bite or expose a sleeping person. Bat bites are small and a sleeping person may not notice the bite. The major question at this point is what to do if you discover a bat in or near your bedroom.

Many people have the gut reaction of killing and disposing of the bat, or shooing it out of your house. This is actually the worst thing you can do. Without the bat, the medical presumption is that you have been exposed to rabies, which requires a series of shots. Despite the small chance that you were actually exposed, we must jump to this conclusion because of the catastrophic consequences of rabies infection.

What you should do, is try to catch and confine the bat, which can be an unpleasant experience. Be extremely careful when doing this to avoid being bitten. The most common method of capture is to wait until the bat lands on a wall or other surface, place an empty cottage cheese or other container over it, slide the cover under and secure. Some people use a broom or tennis racket to knock the bat out of the air and then capture it.

If you kill the bat, DO NOT DAMAGE THE HEAD, if at all possible. The brain needs to be intact for proper rabies testing, and if damaged, the test results may be inconclusive. Inconclusive tests are considered positive tests, since rabies cannot be ruled out.

Once you have secured the bat, call Police and Fire Dispatch at (608) 255-2345. They will send out an Animal Services Officer to collect the bat and submit it for rabies testing at the State Lab of Hygiene. Public Health communicates the test results to the exposed person and provides care recommendations based on test results, (positive, negative, inconclusive).

Animal Services is on duty 8:00 AM to 8PM on weekdays and 8 to 4:30 on weekends. If a bat is found or captured during the nighttime hours, we recommend that the bat be kept cool (refrigerated) until Animal Services can pick it up, the next day, as heat and time break down the brain tissue needed for testing.

More information can be found at:


For information on bats, see http://www.batcow.org/.


Public Health - Madison & Dane County


  • Jeff Golden(608) 243-0302