Rabies in Dogs
is a virus that may affect the brain and spinal cord of all mammals, including
dogs, cats and humans. Though preventable, there is good reason that the word
“rabies” evokes fear in people. The disease has been reported in every state
except Hawaii, and everywhere throughout the world except for Australia and
Antarctica. Annually, rabies causes the deaths of more than 50,000 humans and
millions of animals worldwide. Once symptoms appear, the disease results in
How Would My Dog Get Rabies?
Since animals who have rabies secrete large amounts of virus in their
saliva, the disease is primarily passed to dogs through a bite from an infected
animal. It can also be transmitted through a scratch or when infected saliva
makes contact with mucous membranes or an open, fresh wound. The risk runs
highest if your dog-or any pet-is exposed to wild animals. The most common
carriers of the rabies virus in this country are bats, raccoons, skunks and
foxes. In the United States, rabies is reported in cats more than in any
domestic species. If there are also cats in your household, it’s important to
make sure they are vaccinated and kept indoors.
What Are the General Symptoms of Rabies?
Initially, a dog who’s become infected may show extreme
behavioral changes such as restlessness or apprehension, both of which may be
compounded by aggression. Friendly dogs may become irritable, while normally
excitable animals may become more docile. A dog may bite or snap at any form of
stimulus, attacking other animals, humans and even inanimate objects. They may
constantly lick, bite and chew at the site where they were bitten. A fever may
also be present at this stage.
As the virus progresses, an infected dog may become hypersensitive to touch,
light and sound. They may eat unusual things and hide in dark places. Paralysis
of the throat and jaw muscles may follow, resulting in the well-known symptom
of foaming at the mouth. Disorientation, incoordination and staggering may
occur, caused by paralysis of the hind legs. Other classic signs of rabies
include loss of appetite, weakness, seizures and sudden death.
How Long After Infection Do Signs of Rabies Show?
The virus usually incubates from two to eight weeks before
signs are noticed. However, transmission of the virus through saliva can happen
as early as ten days before symptoms appear.
Which Dogs Are Most at Risk for Contracting Rabies?
Unvaccinated dogs who are allowed to roam outdoors without
supervision are most at risk for infection. They’re exposed to wild animals and
have a greater chance of fighting with infected stray dogs or cats.
How Is Rabies Diagnosed?
There is no accurate test to diagnose rabies in live animals.
The direct fluorescent antibody test is the most accurate test for
diagnosis--but because it requires brain tissue, it can only be performed after
the death of the animal.