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How to Know if Your Dog has Rabies

Wondering how to tell if your dog has rabies? In today's post, our Albany vets explain what makes rabies so dangerous. We’ll also share signs your dog may have rabies, and discuss how this deadly virus can be prevented.

What's the big deal about rabies?

Rabies is a highly contagious virus that attacks the central nervous system of mammals. This deadly disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected animal and travels from the bite wound along the nerves until it reaches the spinal cord. From there, the virus makes its way to the brain. Once rabies reaches the brain, the infected animal will begin to show symptoms and will typically die within seven days. Rabies can affect any mammal including dogs, cats, livestock and humans.

How can a dog get rabies?

In the U.S., rabies is most often transmitted by wildlife, such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks. Cases of rabies tend to be higher in areas with high populations of unvaccinated stray dogs. 

The rabies virus is transmitted through the saliva of infected mammals and is most commonly transmitted when an infected animal bites another animal (or person). 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?

The signs of rabies in a dog can be broken down into three stages.

Prodromal stage - In this stage, a dog with rabies will generally display behaviors 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 - This stage is the most dangerous stage, causing your pet to become nervous and even vicious. At this point, your pet may cry out excessively, 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 usually following within three days.

How much time is there between exposure to the virus and symptoms appearing?

Pets exposed to the rabies virus won't show signs of the disease right away. 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. The closer a bite is to the spine or brain, the more likely that your dog will develop symptoms much faster than if they were bitten elsewhere on the body. The severity of the bite is also a factor. 

How do 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, your pet's health will deteriorate within a few days. 

If your dog has received their rabies shots, provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian. If anyone came into contact with their saliva or was bitten by your pet (yourself included), they must be advised to contact a physician immediately for treatment. Unfortunately, rabies is always fatal for unvaccinated animals, with death usually occurring within seven to ten days from when the initial symptoms began.

If your dog is diagnosed with rabies, 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 ten 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 accurately diagnose rabies.

How can I prevent my dog from getting rabies?

The best protection against rabies in dogs and cats is to ensure that your pets receive regular rabies vaccinations against the disease. Speak to your vet about making sure your pet is up to date on their rabies shots.

Can I vaccinate my own dog against rabies?

Rabies vaccinations are required by law in most of the United States. For your pet's rabies vaccination to be recognized by the governing bodies of the state you live in, the vaccine must be administered by a veterinarian. Once your dog has received their rabies vaccine, you will receive a certificate that can be presented whenever evidence of vaccine is required.

Does vaccinating a dog protect it completely?

Although the rabies vaccine is very effective it does not guarantee 100% protection. Always watch for signs that your dog has rabies and report any signs to your veterinarian immediately.

If your dog's rabies vaccine is up-to-date and they are exposed to rabies, your pup will receive a booster shot immediately and typically be placed in strict quarantine for 30 days. After the 30-day quarantine period is up, you will need to restrain your pet (leashed and kept away from other pets or people) for an additional 60 days. Quarantine and confinement times vary by state and county.

 It is essential to report potential rabies exposures to your vet and local public health officials and carefully follow their directions.

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.

Is it time for your dog to receive their rabies shot? Contact our Albany vets today to book a vaccine appointment for your four-legged friend.

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