Thursday, 05/18/2023

Have you ever wondered about the eerie tales of “mad dogs” and their dreaded disease? Or perhaps the story of Cujo and his tragic end due to rabies? Ring a bell?

Rabies, in a nutshell, is a viral disease that affects the nervous system of mammals, including our beloved furry friends. It’s caused by the infamous rabies virus, which spreads through the saliva of infected animals, most commonly transmitted through bites. 

Once the virus finds its way into a dog’s body, it starts its stealthy invasion, wreaking havoc on the central nervous system and, if left unchecked, ultimately leading to a fatal outcome.

Now, let’s talk numbers- according to the World Health Organization (WHO), rabies causes an estimated 59,000 human deaths worldwide every year, with over 99% of cases resulting from dog bites. Yes, you read that right, a mind-boggling figure that reminds us of the urgent need to tackle this deadly disease head-on.

But here’s the good news: while rabies remains a significant global health threat, considerable strides have been made in understanding and combating this ferocious foe. Science has come a long way in unraveling the mysteries of rabies transmission, prevention, and control. And that’s precisely what we’re here to explore together.

In this blog, we’ll delve into the current state of knowledge surrounding rabies in dogs, equipping you with valuable insights and practical tips to keep your furry pals safe. 

So, if you’ve ever wondered how to protect your four-legged companions from the clutches of rabies, or simply want to expand your knowledge on this pressing issue, you’ve come to the right place. Get ready to embark on a journey of discovery, compassion, and responsible dog ownership, as we unravel the mysteries of preventing and controlling rabies in dogs.

What Are the Symptoms of Rabies in Dogs?

Now, here’s the thing: the symptoms of rabies can vary depending on the stage of the disease. In the early prodromal phase, your dog might start acting a little out of character. Maybe they become easily irritated, restless, or downright anxious. 

You might notice your typically friendly and sociable pooch withdraw or even exhibit unprovoked aggression. If your dog’s behavior takes a sudden turn, it’s important to pay attention and seek veterinary care immediately.

  • As the disease progresses into the furious phase, things can get seriously intense. Your once sweet and gentle pup may transform into a ball of uncontrollable aggression and restlessness. Barking becomes excessive, and they may lunge or snap at anything in sight without warning.
  • Your dog might also appear disoriented, with dilated pupils and a heightened sensitivity to touch, sound, and light. It’s like they’ve become an entirely different dog. Startling easily and reacting strangely to everyday stimuli, their behavior becomes a cause for concern.
  • On the flip side, some dogs may experience a paralytic form of rabies, aptly called the dumb phase. In this case, weakness and muscle paralysis take center stage.
  • Your pup may struggle to walk, stumble around, or even become completely immobilized. To make matters worse, swallowing becomes a challenge, leading to excessive drooling and difficulty managing their own saliva. It’s heartbreaking to witness your once vibrant companion reduced to this state.

Now, remember that these symptoms aren’t exclusive to rabies alone and can be associated with other health issues. 

Here’s the hard truth: once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is almost always fatal. But fret not! There’s still hope in prevention. Vaccination is key to keeping your furry friend safe from this menacing disease. Make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date and that they’re protected from potential encounters with rabid animals.

Causes of Rabies in Dogs

Rabies in dogs is primarily caused by the transmission of the rabies virus through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. 

The virus is typically found in the saliva of infected animals, and when a dog is bitten by a rabid animal, the virus enters their body through the wound. 

The most common sources of rabies transmission to dogs are wild animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes.

But here’s another startling discovery: domestic animals can also transmit the rabies virus. If a dog interacts with another infected dog or cat, the virus can be transmitted through bites or scratches. 

This highlights the significance of responsible pet ownership and emphasizes the need to ensure that all pets are properly vaccinated against rabies. Vaccination acts as a protective shield, reducing the risk of both infection and the spread of the virus within our communities.

Risk Factors for Rabies in Dogs

There are several key factors that increase the likelihood of dogs contracting this deadly disease. Understanding these risk factors is crucial for taking preventive measures.

Dogs that do not receive timely and effective rabies vaccinations are at a higher risk of becoming infected if they come into contact with the virus. Vaccination provides a crucial line of defense against rabies, as it stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies that can neutralize the virus. 

It is imperative for dog owners to ensure that their pets are up to date with their rabies vaccinations.

Geographical Location

The prevalence of rabies varies across different regions, and dogs living in areas where rabies is endemic are at a higher risk. Regions with a higher population of rabid wildlife, such as bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes, pose a greater danger. 

For example, certain parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America have higher incidences of rabies cases in both dogs and humans. Awareness of the prevalence of rabies in your specific geographical location can help you take appropriate precautions and seek timely veterinary care for your dog.

Outdoor Access And Wildlife Interaction

Dogs with outdoor access and those that frequently interact with wildlife are at a heightened risk of contracting rabies. Outdoor dogs have a greater chance of encountering rabid animals and being exposed to the virus. 

This risk is particularly high if dogs roam freely in areas where wildlife is known to carry the rabies virus. It is important to supervise outdoor activities, prevent dogs from wandering off, and avoid areas where wildlife is prevalent.

Uncontrolled Stray or Feral Dog Populations

The presence of uncontrolled stray or feral dog populations can contribute to the spread of rabies. Stray dogs, with limited or no access to vaccination programs, are more likely to be infected with the virus. These dogs often come into contact with rabid wildlife and can serve as a reservoir for the disease. 

It is crucial for local authorities to implement effective stray dog management programs, including vaccination campaigns and population control measures, to reduce the risk of rabies transmission.

Understanding these risk factors empowers dog owners to take necessary precautions and preventive measures. Vaccinating dogs, especially in high-risk areas, plays a vital role in preventing the spread of rabies and protecting both canine and human health. 

By being proactive and responsible, we can significantly reduce the incidence of rabies and create a safer environment for our beloved furry friends.

Understanding the Behavioral Changes in Dogs With Rabies 

Has your furry friend been acting strange lately? In some cases, behavioral changes can be a tell-tale sign of diseases like rabies. So, let’s delve into the signs and symptoms of rabies in dogs to keep your pooch safe:
Increased Aggression & Irritability
Exhibiting aggressive behavior without provocation. 
Photophobia or sensitivity to light; also, easily agitated. 
Excessive Vocalization & Restlessness
Whine, growl, or barking excessively; may have fever & vomiting.
Appear restless and nervous, pacing or circling.
Muscle Weakness & Paralysis
As the virus progresses, dogs may experience muscle weakness and paralysis. 
Difficulty swallowing, foaming at the mouth due to paralysis of the jaw or throat.
Lack of Response to Stimuli
Becoming lethargic and depressed. 
Unresponsive to stimuli, such as their name or familiar people.
Extreme Aggression
In the final stage of rabies, dogs may exhibit extreme aggression. The pet may bite or attack without warning; they may also become difficult to control.
Hallucinations & Seizures
Rabid dogs may experience hallucinations, seizures, or snapping at imaginary objects. 
Dilated pupils and a heightened response to external stimuli. 

Initial Signs of Rabies in Dogs:

  • Behavioral changes: One of the first signs of rabies in dogs is a noticeable change in behavior. They may become unusually irritable, restless, or anxious. These sudden shifts in temperament can be an early indication of something being amiss.
  • Increased aggression: Dogs infected with rabies may exhibit heightened aggression without provocation. They may become more prone to unprovoked attacks, excessive barking, and even attempts to bite or snap at anything in their vicinity.
  • Withdrawal or unusual behavior: Normally friendly and sociable dogs may become withdrawn or exhibit uncharacteristic behavior. They may isolate themselves or avoid interaction with family members or other pets.

Progression of Rabies in Dogs:

  • Neurological symptoms: As rabies progresses, some neurological symptoms become noticeable. These can include disorientation, confusion, and difficulty coordinating movements. They may appear unsteady on their feet and have trouble maintaining balance.
  • Hypersensitivity to stimuli: Infected dogs may become hypersensitive to touch, sound, and light. They may react strongly to even gentle touches, loud noises, or bright lights. This heightened sensitivity is a result of the virus affecting the dog’s nervous system.
  • Excessive drooling and difficulty swallowing: Dogs with rabies may develop excessive drooling due to difficulty in swallowing. The muscles responsible for swallowing become paralyzed as the virus attacks the nervous system. This can lead to the dog drooling excessively and experiencing discomfort while eating or drinking.

Advanced Signs of Rabies in Dogs

Paralysis: In advanced stages of rabies, dogs may experience paralysis. This paralysis can affect various muscle groups, leading to weakness or complete immobility. Dogs may struggle to walk or become completely immobilized.

Altered vocalizations: Dogs infected with rabies may exhibit changes in their vocalizations. They may make unusual sounds, such as high-pitched whining or throaty growling, due to the effects of the virus on their vocal cords and muscles.

Seizures and aggression: As rabies progresses, dogs may experience seizures, which are sudden, uncontrolled episodes of abnormal brain activity. These seizures can manifest as convulsions or uncontrolled muscle spasms. Additionally, aggression may intensify, leading to more frequent and severe attacks.

How Vets Diagnose and Treat Rabies in Dogs

Diagnosing rabies in dogs involves a combination of clinical examination, laboratory tests, and history evaluation. Here are the steps typically involved in diagnosing rabies:

Diagnostic MethodDescription
Clinical ExaminationA veterinarian assesses the dog’s symptoms and behavior, looking for signs indicative of rabies, including neurological abnormalities, behavioral changes, and unexplained aggression.
History EvaluationThe veterinarian gathers information about the dog’s vaccination history, recent encounters with potentially infected animals, or exposure to wildlife to assess the likelihood of rabies infection.
Direct Fluorescent Antibody Test (dFAT)The gold standard diagnostic test for rabies. A sample, usually brain tissue, is taken from the suspected rabid animal and stained with fluorescent antibodies. The presence of the rabies virus can be detected under a microscope.
Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR)A molecular diagnostic test that detects the presence of the rabies virus’s genetic material (RNA) in samples such as saliva, brain tissue, or cerebrospinal fluid.

Treatment of Rabies in Dogs

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for rabies in dogs once clinical signs appear. The disease is almost always fatal. Therefore, treatment primarily focuses on supportive care and preventing the spread of the virus to humans. Here are the essential steps involved in managing rabies in dogs:

Isolation and quarantine: Dogs suspected of having rabies must be immediately isolated to prevent them from biting or infecting others. Strict quarantine protocols are followed to protect public health and prevent the spread of the virus.

Palliative care: Dogs with clinical signs of rabies receive supportive care to alleviate their symptoms and improve their comfort. This includes providing proper nutrition, hydration, and pain management. Sedation may be used to control aggressive behavior and reduce the risk of self-injury.

Euthanasia: Due to the severe nature of the disease and the potential risk it poses to humans, the decision to euthanize a dog diagnosed with rabies is an incredibly difficult one. It is a heartbreaking choice made out of compassion and responsibility. Euthanasia ensures that the dog’s suffering is alleviated and prevents further transmission of the virus, safeguarding both human and animal welfare.

Facing the reality of euthanasia can be emotionally overwhelming for pet owners and veterinary professionals alike. It is essential to approach this decision with empathy, understanding, and support. 

While the loss of a beloved companion is undoubtedly devastating, it’s important to remember that euthanasia is performed to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering. It serves as a final act of love and mercy, ensuring that the dog does not endure the progressive and often distressing symptoms of rabies.

Additionally, support networks and counseling services are available to help individuals cope with the emotional impact of euthanasia and the loss of a beloved pet.

How to Prevent Rabies in Dogs

Preventing rabies in dogs primarily revolves around vaccination, responsible pet ownership, and minimizing exposure to potentially infected animals. Here are important measures to prevent rabies:

Vaccination: Vaccinating dogs against rabies is critical. Puppies should receive their first rabies vaccine at around 12 to 16 weeks of age, followed by booster shots as recommended by the veterinarian. Regular vaccination and keeping vaccinations up to date provide protection against the virus.

Responsible pet ownership: Ensure your dog is properly licensed and registered. Keep them securely contained within your property or on a leash when outdoors to minimize contact with wildlife or stray animals that may carry the virus.

Avoid high-risk situations: In areas where rabies is prevalent, it’s important to avoid interactions between dogs and potentially infected animals. Discourage your dog from approaching or interacting with wildlife and unvaccinated dogs or cats.

Reporting and addressing stray animals: Promptly report any stray or feral dogs to local authorities. Implementing effective stray dog management programs, including vaccination campaigns and population control measures, helps reduce the risk of rabies transmission.

Final Thoughts

The key lies in awareness and action. By recognizing the symptoms of rabies in dogs, you can catch it early and seek prompt veterinary care. Vaccination is your best defense against this formidable virus, so ensure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date and give them that added layer of protection.

Responsible pet ownership is of utmost importance. Keep an eye out for potential interactions with wildlife and unvaccinated animals, and take precautions to minimize the risks. Leash-up during walks, avoid roaming in high-risk areas, and maintain a safe distance from wild critters.

In the unfortunate event that a dog is diagnosed with rabies, the decision to euthanize is heart-wrenching but necessary. It’s a choice made out of love and compassion to prevent further suffering and protect others from the risk of infection. 

By staying informed, proactive, and supportive, we can make a difference in the prevention and control of rabies in dogs. Together, let’s continue to raise awareness, advocate for responsible pet ownership, and work towards a world where our furry companions can thrive without the fear of this deadly disease.

Keep spreading the knowledge, keep your dogs safe, and cherish the precious moments you share with your canine companions.

Disclaimer: The content on the site is for educational purposes only, and it does not provide medical advice. The shared information must not be treated as a substitute for or alternative for medical practitioner advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Regarding any concerns about your pet’s health, seeking veterinary guidance is of utmost necessity. Each pet has specific health, fitness & nutrition needs. Do not disregard, avoid or delay pet health-related advice from veterinarians based on reading the information provided on this site.

Faqs Related to Rabies in Dogs

Does the rabies vaccine prevent rabies in dogs?

Although the chances of a vaccinated dog contracting rabies are low, it’s important to understand that the rabies vaccine does not provide a 100% guarantee of protection. While the vaccine is highly effective in preventing rabies in dogs, there is still a small possibility of infection, especially in cases of high-risk exposure.

In the event that your dog in South Plainfield is exposed to rabies and their vaccination is up to date, immediate action is necessary. They will receive a booster vaccine to enhance their immune response, followed by a strict 30-day quarantine period. 

What is the recommended timeframe for receiving a rabies shot after being bitten by a dog?

If you have been bit by a dog, cat, bat, or any other mammal that you suspect may have rabies, it is crucial to seek medical attention immediately. The initial dose of the rabies vaccine should be administered within the first 24 hours after exposure to maximize its effectiveness.

In such situations, it is recommended to visit a doctor as soon as possible. They will evaluate the severity of the bite, assess the risk of rabies transmission, and determine the appropriate course of action. The doctor may clean the wound thoroughly to reduce the risk of infection and administer the necessary vaccines, including the rabies vaccine.

Prompt medical intervention is vital because rabies is a serious and potentially life-threatening disease. By receiving the first dose of the vaccine promptly, you increase your chances of preventing the onset of rabies and protecting your health.

What are the stages of rabies in dogs?

The first stage, known as the prodromal phase, is characterized by behavioral changes in animals. Calm or anxious animals may become aggressive, while active ones may show signs of fatigue. This phase lasts a few days. 

The next stage, called the excitation stage or furious rabies, brings extreme excitability, irritability, and hyperreactivity. Dogs may bite or run away from familiar people. This stage lasts for several days. 

The final stage, paralytic or dumb rabies, primarily affects dogs and involves motor control issues like difficulty swallowing, choking, and cough-like symptoms.

Do dogs with rabies consume water?

Rabies induces hydrophobia in dogs and other affected mammals, resulting in an aversion to water. This aversion causes them to cease drinking, which can lead to rapid dehydration. The fear of water arises due to the discomfort and pain associated with swallowing, as the disease causes spasms in the throat muscles.

Do dogs affected by rabies experience a loss of appetite?

Furious rabies in dogs is characterized by increased aggression and extreme excitability. Dogs with this form of rabies may display unusual behavior, including a disturbed appetite and a tendency to eat non-food items like stones, earth, or rubbish (known as pica). As the disease advances, paralysis can occur, which can eventually hinder the dog’s ability to eat and drink.



Alex Schechter

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