The Deadly Rabies Virus
Rabies is a highly contagious but preventable virus that affects the central nervous system of mammals. This deadly disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected animal and travels from the site of the bite along the nerves until it reaches the spinal cord, and works its way from there to the brain. Once rabies reaches the brain, the infected animal will begin to show symptoms and will typically die within 7 days.
How can a dog get rabies?
In the U.S., rabies is typically spread by wildlife, such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks — but it can be found in any mammal. Rabies is most commonly found in areas with high populations of unvaccinated feral dogs.
Rabies is transmitted through the saliva of infected mammals and is most commonly transmitted from a bite from an animal that has been infected by the virus. Rabies can also be transmitted if the saliva of an infected animal comes in contact with an open wound or mucous membranes, such as gums. The more contact your dog has with wild animals, the higher the risk of their infection.
What are the signs of rabies in a dog?
There are three distinct stages of the rabies virus in pets. Below are the symptoms associated with each stage:
Prodromal stage - In this stage, a rabid dog will usually exhibit changes in behavior that differ from their normal personality, if your pet is usually shy, they might become more outgoing, and vice versa. If you notice any behavioral abnormalities following an unknown bite, remove your pet from any other pets and family members, and contact your vet immediately.
Furious stage - The next stage is the most dangerous stage, causing your pet to become nervous and even vicious. They might cry out excessively and experience seizures and stop eating. The virus has gotten to the stage where it has begun attacking the nervous system, and it prevents them from being able to swallow, leading to the classic symptom of rabies, excessive drooling known as "foaming at the mouth."
Paralytic stage - This is the final stage in which a rabid dog will go into a coma, be unable to breathe, and unfortunately, most often pass away. This stage usually occurs about seven days after symptoms begin, with death following within usually 3 days.
How long does it take for rabies symptoms to appear in dogs?
If your companion is exposed to the rabies virus, the signs won't be present immediately. The typical incubation period is roughly three to eight weeks, however, it can be anywhere from 10 days to as long as a year.
The speed at which symptoms appear depends entirely on the infection site. A bite that is closer to the spine or brain will develop much faster than others and it also depends on the severity of the bite.
How can you test a dog for rabies?
Once the symptoms of rabies appear there is nothing you or your vet can do to treat the disease. There is no known treatment or cure for rabies and once symptoms begin to appear, their health will deteriorate within a few days.
If your pet has received their puppy shots against rabies and all required boosters, provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian. If anyone came into contact with their saliva or were bitten by your pet (yourself included), advise them to contact a physician immediately for treatment. Unfortunately, rabies is always fatal for unvaccinated animals, usually occurring within 7 to 10 days from when the initial symptoms began.
If a diagnosis of rabies is confirmed you will need to report the case to your local health department. An unvaccinated pet that is bitten or exposed to a known rabid animal must be quarantined for up to six months, or according to local and state regulations. A vaccinated animal that has bitten or scratched a human, conversely, should be quarantined and monitored for 10 days.
Your pet should be humanely euthanized to ease their suffering and to protect the other people and pets in your home. If your dog dies suddenly of what you suspect to be rabies, your vet may recommend having a sample from the cat’s brain examined. Direct testing of the brain is the only way to diagnose rabies for sure.
How can you protect your dog against rabies?
The best protection against rabies in dogs and cats is to get them regular preventive vaccinations against the disease.
Depending on the type of vaccine your veterinarian chooses to administer, your pet will need to receive a boost either once a year or once every three years.
Speak to your vet about making sure your pet is up to date on their rabies shots.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.