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Rabies in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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For most people, hearing the word rabies strikes great fear. With Hollywood portrayals such as "Cujo," and often lethal result of a rabies infection, these fears are somewhat justified. But with understanding and knowledge, fears can be replaced with a healthy respect for the virus.

The rabies virus can infect almost any mammal. It is shed in the saliva and transmitted typically by bite wounds. Without treatment, the virus eventually attacks the nervous system and results in death. Throughout the world, 35,000 people die each year from rabies. In the United States, about 3 people succumb each year to rabies.

In the United States, rabies is most commonly found in skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and bats. Despite their bad rap, rabies in ferrets is quite uncommon. Since 1958, only 22 ferrets have been diagnosed with rabies.

Recently in the United States, cats have become the number one domestic animal diagnosed with rabies. It is suspected this is due to more cats being kept as pets and allowed to roam their neighborhoods.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing rabies can be difficult. In the early stages, the virus has not yet attacked the brain and the animal acts normally. There are no body changes and no test that can determine if an animal or person was exposed to the virus. Unfortunately, the only way to diagnose rabies is to examine brain tissue, and this can only be done after the animal is dead. This means that testing your pet for rabies is not a test he can survive. Euthanasia is required. For information of human testing of advanced rabies, consult your family physician.

Treatment

Rabies is a fatal virus and there is no treatment for those animals in the final stages of the disease. People exposed to rabies can receive injections to reduce the risk of rabies infection but these injections have not been extensively tested in animals. Due to the serious risk of transmission to humans, animals that have been bitten by another animal with confirmed rabies should be euthanized.

Home Care

There is no home care for rabies. If your animal is showing the signs of rabies, euthanasia and testing is recommended. If your pet is euthanized or dies for reasons not related to rabies and has bitten someone within 10 days before his death, testing is required by law.

Preventative Care

The best way to prevent rabies exposure is to have your pet appropriately vaccinated and reduce his risk of exposure to wildlife. This is done by keeping your cats indoor and your dogs confined or leash walked only. Allowing your pets to roam will only increase the risk of exposure to rabies.

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