Dogs are required to be quarantined for a minimum of 10 days after biting a person in California. Bites must be reported to local health officials, triggering the quarantine process. This mandatory quarantine process is to make sure the dog does not have rabies.
When the animal does not appear to be rabid, it can be held in the dog owner’s home. If the dog is a high risk for rabies, the quarantine has to be done at a shelter. The quarantine period lasts for 10 days. It ends with the release of the animal, or euthanasia if the dog had rabies.
If the owner of the dog does not comply with the quarantine procedure, he or she can face a criminal charge. If the quarantine was being performed in the owner’s home, animal control officers can move the dog to another location.
If the dog is rabid, it will be euthanized. Rabid dogs also drastically increase the legal damages suffered by a dog bite victim. If the owner has no insurance, it can prevent the victim from making a full financial recovery.
In this article, our California dog bite lawyers explain:
- 1. When does a dog bite need to be reported in California?
- 2. How is a dog bite report investigated?
- 3. What is the quarantine procedure in California?
- 4. Why does California have a quarantine process after a dog bite incident?
- 5. What happens if the dog owner does not comply with the quarantine process?
1. When does a dog bite need to be reported in California?
The quarantine process under California dog bite law begins with a report. This report has to be made after the dog bit a human being. These bites are legally required to be reported to the local health official. All dog attacks must be reported, even if the dog attacked a trespasser or was defending its owner.
In theory, California law only requires people to report dog bites in counties that have been declared “rabies areas.”1 Outside of declared “rabies areas,” only animals suspected of actually having rabies need to be reported to a local health officer.
However, the Director of the State Department of Health Services gets to decide which California counties are “rabies areas.” The Director has declared all 58 of California’s counties at risk of rabies every single year since 1987.2
As a result, any time a dog bites a person, California law requires a report to be made to the local health official. This triggers the quarantine procedure. Local health officials often designate animal control agencies as their point of contact. This includes health officials in:
- Los Angeles County,
- Orange County,
- Sacramento County,
- San Diego County,
- San Francisco County, and
- Santa Barbara County.
The only exception is if the dog bit another dog. In these cases, there is no quarantine order or reporting requirement.
2. How is a dog bite report investigated?
The animal control officer will try to verify that the dog bite happened the way it was reported. They will also assess the risk of the victim contracting rabies from the bite. The officer is supposed to investigate within 24 hours of receiving the report. Animal control officers interview the victim and investigate the dog.
The interview with the victim aims to assess the severity of the dog bite. The animal control officer can help the victim get the medical care they need. The officer will also record the victim’s personal information and record their version of events.
The officer will investigate the dog, as well. This involves gathering the following evidence:
- The dog’s breed,
- Past bites or indications of violence,
- Contact information for the dog’s owner,
- Information for the person who might be holding the dog in quarantine,
- Rabies vaccination history,
- Information on the dog’s license,
- The dog owner’s version of events, and
- State of the dog owner’s home, particularly steps taken by the owner to keep the dog under control.
All of this information informs the officer’s rabies assessment. The information can be subpoenaed as evidence in future legal proceedings.
3. What is the quarantine procedure in California?
If a dog bites a person, the dog will be quarantined until it is clear it does not have rabies. This can take up to 10 days. Where the dog will be quarantined will depend on whether it is a high risk for the disease.
3.1 What are the risk factors for rabies that determine how the dog will be quarantined?
The following factors color the animal control officer’s assessment of the dog’s risk of carrying rabies:
- Abnormal or excessively violent behavior,
- Whether the victim provoked the dog in any way before the bite,
- The age of the dog, with younger dogs considered more likely to have rabies,
- The number, location, and severity of the dog bites suffered by the victim,
- How the wounds were medically treated,
- Whether the dog was current on their rabies vaccinations, and
- If the rabies virus – often carried by raccoons – had been detected in the area in recent days or weeks.3
3.2 Will the dog be quarantined at home or in a shelter?
The animal control officer has the discretion to quarantine the dog at the owner’s home or somewhere else.
Dogs that are high risk for rabies are quarantined somewhere else. They are often quarantined at:
- The veterinarian’s office,
- An animal shelter or impound, or
- A kennel under contract with the animal control office.
Staff members at these locations are trained to monitor dogs for signs of rabies. The dogs are housed individually, where they can have no contact with other animals.
Dogs that have been deemed a low risk for rabies can be quarantined at the owner’s home. These dogs must be kept out of contact with other people or animals, either indoors or in a securely fenced-in yard. Only 1 person is allowed to care for the dog. The animal control officer can conduct unannounced inspections of home quarantined dogs. If the terms of the quarantine are not being complied with, the animal control officer can take the dog and quarantine it somewhere else.
Quarantines away from home are more likely because the dog can be monitored more easily. However, evidence that the dog is current on its vaccines and does not have a violent history can lead to a home quarantine.
Where the dog is quarantined is at the discretion of the animal control officer. The owner has no right to a home quarantine of their pet.
3.3 How does a quarantine period end?
Under California quarantine law, the lockdown lasts for up to 10 days. Only the animal control officer can end the quarantine.
If the dog shows signs of rabies and a veterinarian makes a positive diagnosis during the quarantine, the dog will be euthanized.
If the dog does not have rabies, it will be released to the owner after the 10-day quarantine. If it has not been vaccinated, a vaccine will be administered before release. The victim will also be notified that the dog was not rabid.
4. Why does California have a quarantine process after a dog bite incident?
In California, the quarantine requirement after a dog bite is driven by a fear of rabies. It is in the public interest to do everything possible to lower the risks of getting rabies. The rabies virus causes visual symptoms in dogs within only a few days. Therefore, if a dog goes 10 days without showing the signs of rabies they are deemed rabies-free.
5. What happens if the dog owner does not comply with the quarantine process?
Dogs that are quarantined at home cannot have contact with other humans or animals. The terms of a home quarantine are strict. Failure to adhere to them will lead the animal control officer to quarantine the dog elsewhere.
Hiding a dog that has bitten someone else is a misdemeanor crime.4 Hiding the dog or violating the terms of the dog’s quarantine can carry:
- Up to 1 year in jail, and
- Between $100 and $1,000 in fines.5
- California Code of Regulations Title 17, § 2606(a).
- See e.g., California Department of Public Health, “Declaration of Rabies Areas – 2019.”
- California Department of Public Health, “Investigation, Management, and Prevention of Animal Bites in California.”
- California Health and Safety Code 121705.
- California Health and Safety Code 121710.