Everything You Need to Know About Rabies in Dogs

Rabies in dogs

Rabies is a deadly disease in dogs. When caught, a virus causes catastrophic damage to the brain and nerves. Infected animals experience paralysis that will inevitably shut down the respiratory system, almost always leading to death within days.

Rabies spreads through saliva, often from a bite. It can affect any kind of mammal, including humans. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for rabies. There is, however, a vaccine that can prevent it. Read on for the lowdown on this nasty, fatal disease.

Where Rabies Is Prevalent

Some countries are rabies-free. These include the UK, Australia and Japan. Other countries are rabies-controlled, meaning there are very low instances of rabies and usually only in wild animals. Official estimates in the USA, for example, put the number of dogs infected by rabies every year at between 60 and 70. 

Rabies is most prevalent in parts of Asia that are neither rabies-free nor rabies-controlled. It accounts for more than 30,000 human deaths there every year, and around 55,000 human deaths worldwide. 

Dog owners should always consider and ensure pet vaccination, even in rabies-free countries and especially when traveling overseas with their pets or if they are importing a dog. 

The Symptoms of Rabies in Dogs

The first signs of rabies may start gradually and be difficult to detect. This is why it’s always important to consult your vet. Symptoms can include a fever, along with loss of energy and appetite. After a few days, the effects of rabies tend to progress quickly. 

Dogs can become weak and suffer paralysis in their legs. They may have seizures and find it hard to breathe. They may also become extremely aggressive and delusional, appearing to hallucinate by attacking what’s around them with no apparent trigger.

It is at this stage they are most dangerous to humans because they are likely to bite.

When paralysis sets in, dogs will tend to hyper salivate due to an inability to swallow. This causes foaming at the mouth, the classic sign that many see as rabies infection having taken hold. Coma and death will follow within around 10 days.

Here is a roundup of the common initial symptoms related to rabies in dogs:

  • Fever
  • Loss of energy and appetite
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Noise and light sensitivity
  • A tendency to become over-friendly or attention-seeking

These other symptoms can follow after a few days:

  • Paralysis in the legs
  • Seizures
  • Difficulties breathing
  • Big behavioral changes especially aggression and depression
  • An appearance of being in a delusional state by attacking anything around them
  • Foaming at the mouth
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How the Transmission of Rabies Happens

The easiest way for a dog to get infected is from the bite of another animal. Transmission will happen through saliva. Although possible, it’s unlikely that saliva would infect another dog through an open wound or their mucous membranes.

It’s not possible to definitively diagnose rabies in any living animal. This means it’s vital for dog owners to be aware of possible symptoms and to contact their vet if they have any worries. 

If a vet suspects rabies may be at play, they are likely to want to test the affected dog’s brain once it has died. They do this through a method called direct fluorescent antibody testing.

Because there’s no treatment for rabies in dogs, vets will recommend humane euthanasia if they suspect a case of rabies.  

Vets will always consider rabies as a potential diagnosis if your dog has experienced exposure to an infected animal. They will also want to try and eliminate other diseases with similar symptoms as potential causes.

The Importance of Vaccination

The good news is that the rabies vaccine can prevent rabies infection. Vets consider it to be one of the core vaccines for dogs, meaning that all dogs should receive it.

Most vets recommend that a puppy should get their rabies shot from when they are about 3 months old. Your dog should then get a booster vaccine during their first year and then every 1-3 years after that. 

It’s worth noting that there is a ‘rabies-like’ virus called the Lyssavirus. It infects some species of wild bats. It spreads in the same way as rabies. The risk to humans is extremely low unless they come into contact with bats on a regular basis. There is no known risk to dogs.

Traveling with Dogs

Because many countries wish to mitigate the spread of rabies, they have strict rules and regulations related to the movement of animals across their borders. This includes pet dogs.

You should always check with your vet about any vaccinations your dog needs, including the one that prevents rabies. You must make sure that your dog is up to date with all their shots and medications. Your vet would normally administer the rabies vaccine into your dog’s right rear leg.

Common side effects of the rabies vaccine can include:

  • A mild fever
  • A slight loss of appetite 
  • A small loss of energy for 24 to 36 hours afterward
  • Some soreness and mild swelling at the point of injection 

Once your dog is home after their vaccine, you should provide them with a warm and comfortable place to lie down and rest. Ensure that they have access to water and their favorite food. There is no need for alarm if your pet is not very hungry. Avoid patting or playing with your pet after vaccination as they may wish to be left alone. 

Rabies vaccines are usually given alone. Vets will often separate them from all other vaccinations by at least two weeks.

If You Suspect It, Treat It as an Emergency

If you think your dog may have experienced exposure to another animal suspected of having rabies, consider it as an emergency. You must contact your vet immediately. Even if your dog is up to date with its rabies vaccination, your vet may still recommend another one as a preventative measure.

We are always there to offer reassurance and support for dog owners. If you have any concerns about any dog, please get in touch with us now for immediate online access to a qualified vet. 

We’re also able to offer extra peace of mind with our range of straightforward, hassle-free, pet insurance products.

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