Rabies in Dogs

Rabies in dogs sad dog

Reviewed by Dr. Steven Servantez of Badger Veterinary Hospital-Janesville

Rabies remains a major concern worldwide, killing around 59,000 people every year. Most deaths are caused by rabies transmission from dogs in countries without good canine vaccination programs.

Thanks to rabies vaccination and animal control programs in the U.S., human cases of rabies have been dramatically reduced here. You can do your part as a dog owner to help control rabies by understanding the disease and keeping your dog up-to-date on his/her vaccination.

A Fast-Acting, Deadly Virus

Rabies is caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system of mammals, including dogs. It is almost always fatal once symptoms occur.

The rabies virus is secreted in saliva, and it’s usually transmitted to a dog by a bite from an infected animal. This might be a bite from another dog or from a wild animal, such as a raccoon, coyote, skunk, or fox. However, a bite isn’t necessary; rabies can be transmitted when saliva from a rabid animal comes in contact with an open cut on a dog’s skin or a dog’s eyes, nose, or mouth.

For dogs, it takes about two weeks to four months between infection and the appearance of the first symptoms. During this period, the rabies virus begins to swell a dog’s brain which leads to one of two forms of the disease: furious rabies or dumb rabies.

Rabies Symptoms in Dogs

Symptoms of rabies in dogs vary based on an individual dog’s response to the virus. Behavior changes, unexplained paralysis, and neurologic signs are all causes for concern and can point to the form of rabies the dog has contracted.

  • Furious rabies is when a normally friendly dog suddenly becomes fearful and aggressive.
  • “Dumb” rabies is indicated by paralysis, difficulty swallowing, unresponsiveness, or confusion.

There is no treatment for a dog with rabies. And rabies can only be confirmed after death. If it’s suspected that a dog has rabies, the dog must be kept in isolation, often at a veterinary clinic, for observation.

Rabies Vaccination Is Essential

It is a Wisconsin state law that any domestic pets, including dogs, be vaccinated against rabies at least annually. In most cases, the vaccine covers your dog for three years.

Rabies is entirely preventable through vaccination. The rabies vaccine is given at 16 weeks of age for puppies, and the vaccine is boostered at their 1-year adult visit. Serious problems from the rabies vaccine are very rare; the primary side effect is temporary itching or soreness at the injection site.

The rabies vaccine is very affordable, especially compared to a quarantine. Should your dog bite or scratch someone while they are not current on the rabies vaccine, you could be fined and your dog must undergo a 10-day quarantine at an approved veterinary facility to monitor for rabies symptoms. Quarantine can cost upwards of $1,000 to $1,500. Vaccination only costs around $85.

Protect the ones you love. Vaccinate your pets against rabies. Call Badger Veterinary Hospital today to schedule an appointment for your pet.