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Rabies in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Vaccines

Rabies, a deadly and highly contagious virus, can impact dogs, other animals, and humans. Protect your pet from this perilous disease with up-to-date vaccinations. Our vets in Lebanon are here to share key facts about rabies.

The Deadly Rabies Virus

Rabies, a preventable but highly contagious virus, attacks the central nervous system of mammals. An infected animal transmits this deadly disease through its bite. The virus travels swiftly from the bite site along the nerves to the spinal cord, reaching the brain. Once in the brain, the infected animal manifests symptoms and usually succumbs within 7 days.

How can a dog get rabies?

In the U.S., wildlife like raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks typically spread rabies, although any mammal can carry it. Unvaccinated feral dog populations are hotspots for rabies. Infected mammals transmit rabies through saliva, usually via a bite.

The virus can also spread if the saliva of an infected animal contacts an open wound or mucous membranes like gums. The risk of your dog getting infected increases with more contact with wild animals. 

What are the signs of rabies in a dog?

The rabies virus in pets progresses through three distinct stages. Here are the symptoms for each stage:

Prodromal stage - In this stage, a rabid dog will usually exhibit changes in behavior 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 other pets and family members and contact your vet immediately. 

Furious stage - The next stage is the most dangerous stage, causing your pet to become nervous and even vicious. They might 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 following within usually 3 days.

How long does it take for rabies symptoms to appear in dogs?

If the rabies virus affects your companion, signs won't immediately appear. The incubation period usually spans three to eight weeks, but it can range from 10 days to a year.

The rate at which symptoms manifest relies entirely on the infection site. A bite closer to the spine or brain will lead to quicker development, influenced by the severity of the bite.

How can you test a dog for rabies?

Once rabies symptoms appear, neither you nor your vet can treat the disease. Rabies has no known cure, and as symptoms manifest, your pet's health will rapidly deteriorate within a few days.

If your pet has received rabies vaccinations and all required boosters, provide proof of vaccination to your veterinarian. If anyone, including yourself, has had contact with their saliva or been bitten by your pet, urge them to contact a physician immediately for treatment. Unfortunately, rabies is always fatal for unvaccinated animals, typically occurring within 7 to 10 days from the onset of initial symptoms.

Report the case to your local health department upon confirming a rabies diagnosis. An unvaccinated pet bitten or exposed to a known rabid animal must undergo quarantine for up to six months, following local and state regulations. Conversely, a vaccinated animal that has bitten or scratched a human should be quarantined and monitored for 10 days.

To alleviate suffering and protect others in your home, humane euthanasia is recommended for your pet. If your dog suddenly dies of suspected rabies, your vet may suggest examining a sample from the cat's brain. Direct testing of the brain is the only definitive way to diagnose rabies.

Can I vaccinate my own dog for rabies?

If you choose to vaccinate your animal for rabies, public health and law enforcement officials will not acknowledge the validity of the vaccination. You and your animal will face treatment as though no rabies vaccine was administered.

Proving that your dog has received the rabies vaccine is crucial to confirming the absence of rabies transmission risk. However, if your dog's vaccinations are not current, authorities may quarantine or euthanize them due to the potential threat. Dogs that bite people must be confined for a minimum of 10 days to monitor any potential development of rabies.

How can you protect your dog against rabies?

The best protection against rabies in dogs and cats is to get them regular preventive vaccinations against the disease. 

Your pet will require a booster shot either annually or every three years, depending on the chosen vaccine administered by your veterinarian. Please discuss with your vet to ensure your pet stays current with their rabies shots.

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 have their rabies shot? Contact Cumberland Animal Hospital today to book a vaccine appointment for your pup.

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Cumberland Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Lebanon companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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