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Rabies in Dogs

What Is Rabies in Dogs?

Rabies is a viral illness that proves fatal for almost all dogs it afflicts. Thankfully, pet owners can take steps to prevent their dogs from contracting the rabies virus by administering a canine rabies vaccine.

The rabies virus targets the central nervous system (CNS), spreading via nerves from the site of infection to the brain. Afflicted animals suffer paralysis that invariably affects the respiratory system, ultimately resulting in death.

Rabies can impact any mammal, including humans. Animals that harbor and transmit viruses like rabies are referred to as reservoirs for the disease. Possible reservoirs include skunks, weasels, and bats. Dogs and humans are moderately susceptible to all strains of the virus and are not considered reservoir hosts.

Symptoms and Types

The initial signs of rabies may emerge gradually and prove challenging to detect. These indicators encompass fever, along with diminished energy and appetite. Within 2-4 days, rabies symptoms typically escalate rapidly, incorporating weakness or paralysis of the legs, seizures, breathing difficulties, excessive drooling due to swallowing issues, and abnormal behavior. Behavioral shifts can span from heightened aggression to despondency or coma.

Classical rabies manifests in two forms: furious and paralytic. Dogs afflicted may exhibit indications of either or both forms. In the furious phase, dogs can display aggression and sporadic delusions. They might appear to experience hallucinations and attack their surroundings without provocation. The paralytic phase entails dogs starting to experience paralysis affecting various muscle systems. They frequently lose the ability to swallow, resulting in excessive drooling and foaming at the mouth—a hallmark sign of rabies virus infection according to some individuals.

Ultimately, coma and death ensue following paralysis or prolonged seizure activity.


The primary method of infection for dogs is through a bite from an infected animal, where the virus is transferred via saliva. Occasionally, the saliva or nerve tissue of an infected animal can infect a dog’s open wound or the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, or mouth, resulting in virus transmission without an actual bite taking place.


Diagnosing rabies in a living animal is not possible with certainty, hence it is crucial to closely observe signs and interpret symptoms accurately. If a veterinarian suspects rabies based on the dog’s symptoms, a diagnosis can be confirmed by testing the brain tissue postmortem. The brain tissue undergoes examination through a technique known as direct fluorescent antibody testing.


There exists no treatment for rabies in dogs, and humane euthanasia is advised if the disease is strongly suspected.

Recovery and Management

Rabies is nearly always fatal in dogs, and there is no possibility of recovery or ongoing management of the disease once a dog has been infected and begins to show symptoms. Hence, it is crucial to ensure that your dog’s rabies vaccine is kept up to date to safeguard their health and safety in case of exposure to this disease.

Rabies in Dogs FAQs

How does a dog get rabies?

Rabies is typically transmitted through the bite of an infected animal or by transferring infected saliva into the open wound of a non-infected dog.

What should I do if my dog is bitten by a rabid animal?

If you suspect your dog has been exposed to rabies, seek immediate veterinary attention. Dogs that have received rabies vaccinations can be revaccinated as a precautionary measure.

How can you tell if your dog has rabies?

Rabies should be considered as a potential diagnosis if your dog has been exposed to an infected animal. Look out for sudden behavioral changes, neurological symptoms like muscle weakness or paralysis, changes in appetite, or respiratory issues, particularly if other possible diseases can be ruled out. A definitive diagnosis of rabies can only be made postmortem.

How prevalent is rabies in dogs?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 60-70 dogs in the United States are infected with rabies each year.

Does the rabies vaccine prevent rabies in dogs?

The rabies vaccine is effective in preventing rabies infection. It is considered a core vaccine that all dogs should receive, starting at 14 weeks of age. A booster vaccine is necessary one year later, followed by subsequent boosters every 1-3 years.

Can a dog survive rabies?

No, rabies is considered 100% fatal in dogs. Dogs strongly suspected of having the disease should be humanely euthanized.

How long does it take for rabies to kill a dog?

Most dogs will succumb to rabies within 10 days of contracting the virus.

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