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Rabies in Dogs

Rabies is a virus that causes death in dogs and humans.

Rabies is a virus that can infect mammals. Cats, dogs, and humans can contract rabies, and it is almost always deadly once symptoms develop.

Facts to Know About Rabies

Here are some important facts that you should know about rabies:

  • Rabies spreads when one infected animal bites another. The virus does not live long in the environment outside of the host.
  • Some places in the world are considered rabies-free. These are mostly islands and include Australia, Iceland, and the United Kingdom.
  • While rabies virus can infect all mammals, some species are more resistant than others. Mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits rarely get rabies and have not been known to give it to humans.
  • Common wild carriers of rabies include opossums, foxes, bats, and skunks.
  • Bait laced with oral rabies vaccine has been used to vaccinate wildlife and slow the spread of rabies.
  • Humans can become infected by rabies through the bite of a wild or domestic animal, including a dog.

Signs of Rabies in Dogs

Once the virus is in the dog's body, it can take from 10 days to over a year for signs to develop. In dogs, it's most common for signs to develop between 2 and 16 weeks after infection.

The first sign of rabies in dogs is usually a behavior change. If the dog is normally reserved, he might become agitated. If he is usually friendly and outgoing, he might become shy and nervous. After that, the dog may either experience the furious stage of rabies, where he becomes extremely excitable, begins eating non-food items like rocks, and may become violent, or the paralytic stage, where he experiences paralysis that progresses from the extremities to the face.

In both the furious and paralytic stages, paralysis of the throat muscles causes foaming at the mouth. The dog eventually either has a seizure that results in death or slips into a coma and dies.

Treatment of Rabies in Dogs

There is no treatment for canine rabies. If the disease is suspected, local and state laws govern what to do with the dog. The rules differ depending on whether the dog has bitten anyone and whether he has been vaccinated for rabies. Some dogs must be quarantined and observed carefully for signs of rabies for a period of time, and other must be euthanized and tested for rabies.

Humans who are suspected to have been bitten by a rabid animal may be given rabies vaccinations which can interfere with the progression of the disease. However, once signs of rabies begin to show up, it isn't possible to stop the disease, which is almost 100% fatal.

Diagnosing Rabies in Dogs

The only way to diagnose rabies in dogs is to examine brain tissue. Therefore, if a dog is to be tested, he must be euthanized. If he has bitten someone but has been previously vaccinated or there is a low index of suspicion for rabies, local law may allow for a quarantine to watch for the development of signs consistent with rabies rather than immediate euthanasia. You can visit this website to learn about the state-by-state laws and requirements surrounding rabies: www.rabiesaware.org

Preventing Rabies in Dogs

The best way to prevent rabies in your dog is to have him vaccinated when it is recommended and to be sure to keep his booster vaccines updated throughout his life. Wide-spread vaccination of both pets and wildlife is the best way to slow and hopefully eventually stop the spread of rabies.

In order to protect themselves from rabies, humans should use the following guidelines:

  • Don't approach or handle wild animals. Contact animal control if you see a sick or injured animal rather than approaching it yourself. If an animal dies on your property, use gloves if you must handle it because rabies virus can remain infective for a short period of time.
  • If you, your pet, or someone you know is bitten by any animal, seek treatment immediately.
  • If you find a bat in a room where someone has been sleeping, that person should be assumed to have been bitten. Seek medical attention and rabies prophylaxis.
  • Have all of your pets vaccinated against rabies and keep them up-to-date.

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