Rabies in Dogs


Overview of Rabies in Dogs

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 of Rabies in Dogs

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 of Rabies in Dogs

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.

In-depth information on Canine Rabies

Rabies virus is shed in the saliva of the infected animal. It is transmitted to another animal through bite wounds. After being bitten by a rabid animal, the virus slowly migrates up the nerves to the spinal cord. It then travels up the spinal cord to the brain. Once in the brain, the signs of rabies can be seen. Prior to reaching the brain, the animal will act normally and not be contagious. Once the virus reaches the brain, it spreads to the nearby salivary glands and is shed in the saliva.

When the virus begins to shed, studies have shown that the animal will die from the rabies infection within 10 days. The time it takes for the virus to reach to brain varies and is dependent on the placement of the bite wound. Average incubation lasts from 2-8 weeks. During the incubation period, the animal is NOT contagious.

When the virus finally arrives at the brain, signs of rabies are seen. There are typically 3 final phases of rabies Once these signs begin, death usually occurs within 10 days.

Prodromal Phase Subtle changes occur such as erratic behavior, fever or licking/chewing at the previous bite site.

Furious Phase: More erratic and unusual behavior is characteristic of this phase. You may notice irritability, inappropriate barking, restlessness, inappropriate aggression, eating abnormal and non food items, roaming, pacing, staggering, disorientation and even seizures.

Paralytic Phase This phase is considered the final phase. The rabid animal will become weak and the nerves to the throat no longer function. This results in inability to swallow. You will notice drooling and difficulty eating. The animal is not afraid of water; he/she just cannot swallow it so avoids it. Additionally, depression and coma may be seen just prior to death.


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