Contact the Rabies Unit

The Rabies Lab is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm, Monday through Friday. It is closed on weekends and holidays.

Email (preferred):

NEW Phone: (609) 718-8366

Alt. Phone: (609) 530-8416

For emergency rabies testing, contact the Communicable Disease Service Rabies Lead at 609-826-4871.

Contact local Animal Control about suspicious animals around or in the house

Contact NJ Department of Agriculture Animal Pathology at 609-406-6999 or for submission of livestock or agricultural animal heads for testing.

Did you know?

  • The PHEL Rabies Unit tests about 3,000 animals each year
  • Rabies occurs most often in wild animals
  • Among domestic animals, cats are the most often positive
  • Wild animals tested include raccoons, bats, skunks, groundhogs and foxes
  • Among wild animals, raccoons are most often positive for rabies
  • Fewer than one percent (1%) of bats carry rabies in New Jersey
  • PHEL tests livestock and domesticated wild animals
  • The test for rabies is performed on animal brain tissue
  • PHEL utilizes the Direct Fluorescent Antibody (DFA) method
  • Rabies testing follows the CDC standardized testing protocol
  • Highly trained laboratory personnel perform rabies testing
  • Testing is done under strict bioSafety standards
  • Sample handling and disposal follows WHO/CDC Standards

Rabies Testing

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous systems of humans and other mammals. The virus is transmitted through exposure to tissue, saliva or any body fluids from an infected animal. The highest risk exposure involves a bite, a scratch, or other break in the skin. This results in direct exposure to the virus in the infected animal's saliva, tissue, or other body fluids. Infected animals can become aggressive and may attack humans, pets, or other animals without provocation.  If left untreated, rabies is fatal in humans and animals. Therefore, following an exposure, rapid and accurate laboratory testing of the infected animal is required for appropriate preventive treatment in humans.

The Rabies Unit of the Public Health and Environmental Laboratories (PHEL) provides testing for rabies virus in animal (not human) tissue. It is the only rabies testing laboratory in New Jersey.  Rabies testing is performed on animals after death or euthanization.  Test results are used to facilitate human prophylaxis programs and rabies prevention and control in animal populations.

The Rabies Unit works closely with the Communicable Disease Service (CDS) as well as Local Health Departments (LHD), veterinarians and animal control officers across the state.

Members of the public who have questions regarding rabies exposure or test results should first refer to their local health department for guidance here:


Submitting Specimens for Testing

Please refer to our Guidelines for Packaging and Transport of Animal Rabies Specimens to PHEL for complete information

Current Rabies Sample Submission Guidelines include the following:

  • Only decapitated animal will be accepted for rabies testing, except for bats, which shall be submitted intact.   Even small animals e.g., kittens will need to be decapitated. 
    • Any animal not decapitated will be required to be picked up (WITHIN 24 HOURS) by the sender-provider, for decapitation of the animal, prior to testing. 
  • Once testing is completed, all specimens are incinerated. Specimen remains cannot be returned to veterinarians or animal owners at this point under any circumstances.
  • Each sample must be accompanied by a copy of a fully completed requisition form.  A completed form will assure that testing can be performed promptly and that results are routed correctly.
  • Ensure appropriate notification procedures are carried out (see Required Notifications for Rabies Testing) below
  • When possible, arrange for delivery to PHEL by, or before, Thursday morning, to facilitate prompt testing and reporting.
  • Please inform all persons who package specimens to follow the PHEL packaging instructions for rabies specimens. Compliance with ALL required packaging instructions is mandatory for testing.
  • For detailed guidance on how to decapitate an animal appropriately for rabies specimen submission please refer to our guidelines for the removal of animal heads for rabies testing.

The following list identifies common items which can delay or invalidate testing:

  1. Specimens should not be sent to the PHEL without consulting with the Local Health Department (LHD) where the rabies incident occurred.
  2. Do not freeze samples.
  3. Live bats must be clearly labeled as such, in an ESCAPE- PROOF container (e.g. coffee can with tight fitting lid and holes for air), nothing larger than a 1-gallon paint can and no cardboard boxes.
  5. Specimens should be contained in a watertight primary container, such as a heavy plastic bag that is tightly secured and double-bagged or a non-breakable container (i.e. NOT GLASS) with a tight-fitting lid.
  6. Do not submit specimens in glass containers.
  7. Pack the outer surface of a specimen container with sealed coolant packs.
  8. Ensure that a fully completed and legible requisition form accompanies each specimen and is placed in a SEPARATE sealed water proof bag.
  9. Samples received without a completed requisition form cannot be processed until a completed form is received by PHEL. This will delay rabies testing.
  10. Make sure that your FAX machine is maintained, that you have provided the correct number and it is in working properly.
  11. Ensure that all scalpels or instruments used to decapitate are removed from packaging material.
  12. Couriers are instructed not to pick up specimens that are improperly packaged

All persons submitting animals for Rabies testing should be well informed on proper handling, safety, packaging and shipping and documentation procedures for Rabies specimens.

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Discontinuation of Acceptance of Live Bats

Starting in January of 2023 the Rabies lab is no longer be accepting live bats for submission of rabies specimens.  PHEL is committed to working with our submitters to ensure this change goes smoothly.

For health departments, animal control officers or veterinarians who have questions or need assistance in implementing this change, please contact

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How does the laboratory test for Rabies?

Rabies testing and diagnosis is done exclusively using postmortem animal brain tissue. The PHEL Rabies Unit follows the CDC’s National Standard for the Laboratory Diagnosis of Rabies and disposal of specimen materials. The diagnostic procedure followed is the Direct Fluorescent Antibody Testing.

Antigen detection by "dFA"

The dFA test is based on the observation that animals infected by rabies virus will have rabies virus proteins (antigens) present in the brain tissue.  The test uses a fluorescent marker-labeled anti-rabies antibody. When labeled antibody is incubated with rabies-suspect brain tissue, it will bind to the rabies antigens. Any unbound antibody is then washed away and areas where antigens are present in the brain tissue can be visualized as specific patterns of apple-green cell staining using a fluorescent microscope (see below, left). If rabies virus is absent there will be no staining (see below, right).  There are unique patterns of staining and the interpretation of findings requires extensive training, routine proficiency testing, CDC training and concurrent interpretations of results between qualified "readers".

Microscope image of nervous tissue with positive dFA    Microscope image of nervous tissue with negative dFA
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Required Notifications for Rabies Testing

N.J.S.A. 26:4-86.1-2 requires that when it is necessary to test a domestic companion animal (not including domestic livestock) for rabies, the health official or veterinarian must first notify the owner of the animal, verbally and in writing, of the necessity and reason for rabies testing; the rabies testing protocol to be followed; the protocol for handling of the animal’s body; the protocol for disposal of the animal’s body or return to the owner; and the protocol for decapitation. The full text of this statute can be access through NJ Legislative Statutes. NJDOH developed the Rabies Testing Notification Form (VPH-35) to be used by health officials and veterinarians to provide the necessary notification to owners


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Last Reviewed: 3/1/2023