Dog Health 12: Rabies


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If you are the happy owner of a devoted canine friend, then the very mention of rabies is sure to get you anxious as it should.

This is one of the most dreaded diseases that every dog owner fears his or her dog will contract.

If you are getting a new dog home or you are a first- time dog owner, then you may have already heard from others about how seriously you should take this disease.

Rabies can be fatal for dogs and pups. It can also spread to humans from your beloved pet so you and your family could be at risk as well.

It helps to be aware of what rabies is, how does rabies spread, what are the signs of rabies in dogs.


Being informed helps you keep your dog and yourself safe and protected. Let’s start with the basics.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral zoonotic disease, one of the most dangerous ones for your dog. It can affect other mammals too, including humans. 

In fact, nearly 60,000 human fatalities annually can be attributed to rabies. 

The disease is caused by the rabies virus, which is found in every part of the world.

However, in many regions, rabies in dogs has been eradicated completely.

For example, in Europa and North America, rabies has virtually been eliminated in domestic dogs.

 However, it is still found in wildlife. Raccoons, bats, foxes, skunks are all susceptible to it.

There are quarantine programs followed stringently in many islands to keep this serious disease out of the region.

Rabies affects the nervous system and causes an inflammation of the brain and in the spinal cord.

This inflammation increases as the disease progresses.

Once clinical signs have begun to appear, the disease is usually fatal. 

This is why it is doubly important for you to keep your dog safe from this ailment.

It is also necessary to keep a close watch over him/ her to spot any chance of the spread of disease immediately. 


Despite the best efforts in eradicating rabies, in most countries, this has been successful only with respect to domestic pets.

The viral disease is still found in other mammals. 

Some of these may come in contact with your dog depending on where you live or where you go.

It may be transmitted from any of these infected mammals to your household pet.

It may also be transmitted from another infected pet to yours.

If you live near a wooded area or you take your pet along with you into forested areas, you do stand a risk of your dog being bitten.

Raccoons, skunks or other mammals can be infected with rabies and pass it on to your dog. 

Remember that any warm- blooded animal that is rabid can infect your dog.

How does rabies spread?

The mode of transmission of rabies is typically through the saliva of the infected animal.

Hence, the most common way is for this disease to spread via bites. In some rare cases, a scratch also might pass on the infection.

If the saliva of the infected animal comes in contact with any open wound on your dog, there is a fair risk of transmission.

The same goes for you too- if an open wound on your body comes in contact with an infected animal’s saliva, you run a big risk of contracting this virus.

When should you seek treatment?

Whether it is your dog or you, you should seek treatment immediately when you know you have been exposed to a rabid animal.


The virus should not be allowed to reach the nervous system. 

Once it does, the chances that it will be fatal are dishearteningly high.  

When do symptoms show up?

When the transmission had taken place via bite, the saliva with the virus gets introduced into the dog’s body.

It may remain there for several weeks before you spot the first signs of rabies in dogs.

In general, the rabies symptoms in dogs make an appearance anywhere between 21 and 80 days after the bite.

However, it may take longer as well or start appearing much earlier too.

How does rabies spread from dog to human?

Rabies is, unfortunately, equally dangerous for humans as well as dogs.

That is why, as a dog owner, you should protect not just your pet but also yourself and your family from the virus.


Bites are the most common transmission method for rabies from animals to humans. 

So, take pre-emptive measures. Ensure that your dog is protected from rabies. Avoid getting too close to animals you are not familiar with or that are not used to you.

If you have been bitten despite your best efforts, seek help immediately. 

This is not just if you know you have been bitten by a dog infected with rabies.

If you are unsure if the animal that bit you is infected or not, then too, it is best to keep the animal under observation in quarantine.

After 10 days if the dog is healthy and shows no signs of the disease, it is deemed not contagious at the time of the bite.

It is also possible that after a being bitten by a rabid animal you still do not contract the virus but this happens very, very rarely.

If the animal’s saliva had very less of the rabies virus present at the time of the bite, you may not be infected.

However, given the seriousness of this disease, you should NOT take a risk at all by ignoring a bite.

Sadly, it is nearly always going to result in death for humans.

Symptoms of a dog with rabies

How do you identify a dog infected with rabies?

Knowing the most common symptoms helps you keep your canine friend away from a potentially infected animal.

First, here are some things you should know about the incubation period or the time taken from bite to the appearance of the first signs of rabies in dogs.

This can vary depending on the following factors:

·      How close is the bite site from the brain or spinal cord?
·      How severe is the bite?
·      How much virus was passed on via the bite into your dog’s body?

The general symptoms you will see are those related to a disturbance of the central nervous system.

You should be on the look out for behavioral changes that might be most evident to you.


Here is how the disease progresses and these are the symptoms you will see at each stage:

First phase

Also known as the prodromal phase, during this stage, the dog’s temperament changes dramatically.

A quiet dog may become very restless and agitated. 

Shy dogs may seem to be craving human company more.

A usually active, friendly dog may seem withdrawn and listless. This may last just over a couple of days so make sure you do not miss these signs.

Second phase

The second stage may take either of two forms, furious rabies or dumb rabies. Dumb rabies is the more common kind you would encounter.

Second Phase - Furious Rabies

The furious rabies stage is also known as the mad dog stage. 

However, all animals exhibit similar symptoms if they are afflicted with this virus so the word ‘dog’ is a misnomer here.

In this stage, the dog becomes very irritable.

Teeth and claws may come out with the least provocation and the dog may be extremely aggressive and viciously attack.

Even when the dog is not aggressive, his/ her posture may be wary and anxious.

The least bit of noise may prompt the dog to react aggressively and launch an attack.

Even when confronted with other animals that they usually fear, the infected dog may not cower, as he/ she used to, but remain ferocious.

The symptoms of rabies in puppies is similar in many ways.

They may become more playful and need you to be close by at all times. However, they also tend to bite when petted.

Playful one moment, irritable next, it can be quite difficult to predict what the pup would do next.  

Second Phase - Dumb Rabies

The other form that you may see in the second stage is dumb rabies

This is a stage where you will see the impact of slow paralysis.

The limbs, jaw, facial muscles all are impacted.

 You might see that the dog is having trouble swallowing. Do not assume that something is stuck in his/ her throat.

And when you check his/ her mouth, keep in mind that saliva will pass on the infection to you.

So, get a qualified vet to do the necessary checks.

In dumb rabies, you will also see that the dog is drooling excessively.

The lower jaw may droop and the dog seems to have no control over it. Usually, in this form of rabies second stage, the animal is listless and not vicious.


The disease quickly progresses from this dumb rabies stage to death, maybe occurring within a few hours. 

The most important thing for you to note is that when the early signs start manifesting, you can easily mistake it for myriad other things.

It is necessary for you to keep a close watch on your dog’s activities so that if he/ she has suffered a bite, you know to take the right action immediately.

dumb paralytic rabies.


Now we come to question that dog owners want to know the most.


Is there a cure for rabies in dogs? 

The unfortunate fact is that there isn’t.

This is why it becomes so very important for you to ensure that your dog is protected against it and all precautions taken.

If a vet comes across a dog with rabies, he/ she is legally bound to notify the authorities at both local and state level.

It is recommended that unvaccinated dogs that have been exposed to rabies should be euthanized.

In event the owner does not wish this, the animal is isolated so that he/ she cannot come in contact with any other human or animal.

After isolation for five months, the anti- rabies vaccination is administered.

Then after a month has passed, the animal may be released.

For those dogs that have been vaccinated but have been exposed to rabies, revaccination is recommended

The dog should be brought to the vet immediately for revaccination.

Then the animal is closely watched for a period of 45 days to ensure that no symptoms make an appearance.

Since there is no effective rabies treatment in dogs, the best thing for dog owners to do is to get the pet vaccinated regularly.

Also, exposure to areas where infected animals may attack should be limited.

Keep a watch for symptoms and get in touch with your vet immediately if you suspect that the dog may be infected.

There have been a few rare cases where an animal exposed to rabies virus has survived but these are too far and far between.


You cannot take a risk with your beloved dog so vaccinate and protect well in time.

Are vaccines safe?

Yes, rabies vaccines are perfectly safe for your dog.

When they are administered regularly, they cause no side effects.

A vaccinated dog has the right kind of protection against this deadly disease.

The most effective, efficient way to prevent rabies and eradicate it is to vaccinate the pets in time, regularly.

Ideally, your pet should receive this vaccine between the ages of 12 and 16 weeks.

In many countries, including the U.S., rabies vaccination is required by law for your pets. Revaccination and booster shots are also mandatory.

There may be laws governing the schedule you should follow for these so check with your vet.

Once you have your dog vaccinated, the vaccine ensures the right anti- bodies are produced in the dog’s body.

If the rabies virus enters the dog’s body from a bite from an infected animal later, it remains harmless and cannot affect the nervous system.


Anti- rabies vaccines for not just dogs but also cats, ferrets, horses and other mammals are easily available with any vet.

There is simply no reason to leave your pet unprotected anymore.

Arm yourself with knowledge, learn the preventive measures you can take and protect your canine friend with the vaccine.


This is the best thing you can do to keep your dog from falling prey to rabies.

about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.

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