You may think of rabies as a disease
whose time has come and gone, but statistics show that this is not the
case. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every
year an estimated 40,000 people in the United States are treated for
potential exposure to rabies and 55,000 people die worldwide from the
disease. Knowing a little about rabies will help you protect yourself,
your family and your pets from this deadly disease.
What is Rabies?
Rabies is caused by a virus that is
transmitted through the bites of infected animals or through direct
contact between their saliva and open wounds or mucous membranes on
a person or animal's body. Contact with wildlife (primarily
skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and bats) is the most common way for
dogs to become infected with rabies.
The Symptoms of Rabies
When a dog is bitten by a rabies-infected
animal, the virus travels from the wound through nerve cells towards
the brain. It can take weeks or even months for the rabies virus
to make its way to the brain and for symptoms of the disease to develop.
"If your pet has been exposed to a potentially rabid animal call your veterinarian immediately."
The earliest signs of rabies can be
a change in behavior. Outgoing dogs may want to be left alone
or aggressive animals might all of a sudden act in a friendlier manner.
As the disease progresses, the clinical signs become more profound.
During the "furious" stage of the
disease, dogs typically have some or all of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty walking
In the "dumb" stage of rabies,
the following signs may develop:
- Inability to swallow
Over time, infected animals move from
the furious to the dumb form of the disease. Once symptoms develop,
death will occur within ten days.
If a dog does not have a current rabies
vaccine and develops any of the symptoms of the disease, a veterinarian
will first limit the pet's exposure to people and animals and then
try to rule out other medical conditions that cause similar symptoms.
If diagnostic testing does not come up with another explanation for
the dog's symptoms, the veterinarian will probably recommend that
the dog be euthanized and tested for rabies. Unfortunately, no test
is available that can identify rabies in an animal while it is still
Rabies Treatment and Prevention
Once the clinical signs of rabies develop
in a dog, the disease is fatal and treatment is useless. Thankfully,
preventing rabies is extremely easy and inexpensive. Rabies vaccinations,
given on a schedule determined by your dog's age, type of rabies vaccine
used and local laws not only protect pets, but also the people who come
in contact with them. Except in the rarest of circumstances, all
dogs should be vaccinated against rabies.
If your pet has been exposed to a potentially
rabid animal call your veterinarian immediately. Dogs that are
current on their rabies vaccines will probably need a booster and to
be quarantined for 45 days or so (this can often be done at home).
If your dog does not have a current rabies vaccine, euthanasia will
probably be recommended. If you do not permit this, a strict quarantine
of six months or longer will imposed.
When a person has been bitten, contact
a doctor immediately. Pets that bite people need to be quarantined
for ten days. If the animal was capable of transmitting rabies
at the time of the bite, it will die within this ten day period.
Pets that are still alive at ten days could not have transmitted rabies
at the time of the bite.
The details of rabies quarantine and
post-exposure treatment depend on local laws so always talk to your
veterinarian and/or medical doctor if contact with a potentially rabid
animal has occurred.
The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition.
This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not
be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of
your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.