Rabies is a deadly virus that can spread easily to dogs, other animals, and even humans. However, ensuring your pet receives current vaccinations can safeguard them from this lethal disease. Today, our vets in New Iberia provide you with some essential rabies information.
The Deadly Rabies Virus
Rabies is a highly contagious virus that can be prevented, and it impacts the central nervous system of mammals. The virus spreads through the bite of an infected animal, following the nerves from the bite site to the spinal cord and then advancing to the brain. Once it reaches the brain, the infected animal exhibits symptoms and usually succumbs within 7 days.
How can a dog get rabies?
In the U.S., rabies is typically spread by wildlife, such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks — but it can be found in any mammal. Rabies is most commonly found in areas with high populations of unvaccinated feral dogs.
Rabies spreads through the saliva of infected mammals, typically through a bite from a virus-infected animal. It can also pass on when the saliva of an infected animal touches an open wound or mucous membranes like gums. The greater your dog's interaction with wild animals, the greater their risk of getting infected.
What are the signs of rabies in a dog?
The rabies virus in pets progresses through three distinct stages. Here are the symptoms and signs that indicate your dog is experiencing rabies in 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 to know if your dog has rabies?
Determining if your dog has rabies involves observing certain signs. Keep in mind that these symptoms won't manifest right away. Typically, it takes about three to eight weeks for them to appear, but the incubation period can vary, ranging from 10 days to up to a year.
The timeframe for symptom onset varies based on the location of the infection. A bite closer to the spine or brain will lead to quicker symptom development, and the severity of the bite also plays a role.
How to test a dog for rabies?
Once rabies symptoms manifest, you or your veterinarian cannot treat the disease. Rabies has no known treatment or cure, and when symptoms surface, your pet's health will deteriorate within a few days.
If your pet has received puppy shots against rabies and all required boosters, provide vaccination proof to your veterinarian. If anyone has had contact with your pet's saliva or has been bitten by your pet, including yourself, advise them to seek medical attention promptly. Unfortunately, unvaccinated animals usually succumb to rabies, typically within 7 to 10 days from the onset of initial symptoms.
If a rabies diagnosis is confirmed, you must report the case to your local health department. An unvaccinated pet bitten or exposed to a known rabid animal should be quarantined for up to six months, following local and state regulations. Conversely, a vaccinated animal that has bitten or scratched a human should undergo a 10-day quarantine and monitoring.
For the well-being of your pet and to safeguard other people and pets in your home, humane euthanasia is recommended. If your dog suddenly dies, and you suspect rabies, your veterinarian may suggest examining a sample from the cat's brain, as direct brain testing is the only definitive way to diagnose rabies.
Can I vaccinate my own dog for rabies?
In many places, vaccinating your own dog for rabies is not permitted and must be administered by a licensed veterinarian. It's essential to check your local laws and regulations regarding rabies vaccination for pets to ensure compliance with the requirements in your area. It's generally recommended to consult with a veterinarian for proper rabies vaccination.
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 vaccine your veterinarian selects.
Have a conversation with your vet to ensure that your pet stays current with their rabies vaccinations.
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.