A stray dog suffering from rabies was found in the Upper Galilee on Tuesday, raising the total number of rabid dogs in Israel this year to 31. The number marks a sharp increase from previous years and has resulted in more than a hundred people being bitten. The Agriculture Ministry has called on all dog owners to have their pets vaccinated and kept on a leash when outside. A total of 57 cases of rabies have been identified in 2009, up from 12 in 2008 and the highest number of cases in a single year since 2003. The difference between this year and other rabies outbreaks is that this year, most of the animals suffering from the disease are domesticated dogs. According to the veterinary services of the Ministry of Agriculture, between 2003 and 2008 there was a gradual decrease in rabies incidents in Israel. In 2003 the ministry identified an outbreak of rabies in wild foxes and put in place a vaccination program to eradicate the disease. Since 2004, the number of rabies cases gradually decreased until this year, when the numbers climbed dramatically. A large majority of the rabies cases were discovered in the North, close to the Syrian border. Rabies is a virus that can be transmitted to all mammals. It causes acute inflammation of the brain and is almost always fatal. The disease is transferred through the animal's saliva. A single bite, and in some cases even a sneeze or a lick, by an infected animal can pass it on. Anyone suspected of exposure must receive immediate prophylactic treatment to prevent the disease from developing. The release of dogs to the open may bring them into contact with other rabies-infected animals and bring the disease into homes, endangering the residents. Rabies causes animals to be aggressive and hostile, even to their owners. Other symptoms are foaming at the mouth, apathy and paralysis. By law it is compulsory to vaccinate every dog against rabies once a year. The Veterinary Service of the Agriculture Ministry released a set of instructions on how to protect yourself from rabies: â€¢ Vaccinate all dogs every year. Puppies should be vaccinated at the age of three months. â€¢ Avoid contact with stray dogs and cats and with wild animals. â€¢ Always ask the owner's permission before you pet a dog. â€¢ Do not adopt a stray animal without a veterinary exam. â€¢ Do not collect wild animals, bring them into a house or draw them close to a residential area â€¢ Do not attempt to aid a sick wild animal. Such an animal may have rabies. Call the Nature and Parks Protection Authority and their wardens will treat the animal. â€¢ Close garbage cans tightly. Food scraps attract wild animals to human habitats.