Knowing the warning signs of rabies in dogs can help prevent infection to other animals and people.
Rabies is a deadly virus that attacks the nervous system and can cause brain inflammation. Although survival is possible, the virus almost always kills its host. The virus grows in the muscle tissue before moving into the spinal cord and brain.
The virus cannot survive for more than a day outside its host.
How Is Rabies Transmitted?
Transmission is typically through physical contact. The virus travels through the spinal cord and brain in the later phases. Once it enters the saliva glands and produces foaming of the mouth, it is considered advanced and highly contagious.
Large amounts of the virus are found in saliva and are transmitted when the infected mammal bites an uninfected mammal.
Other methods of transmission include scratches or infected blood or saliva coming in contact with another mammal’s open wound. In extremely rare cases, the virus is said to still be transmittable by inhaling the gasses from decomposing infected animals.
Wild animals pose the largest threat because they are typically not vaccinated and come into contact with other wild animals. Common carriers include bats and raccoons.
Initial Warning Signs
There are multiple phases of the rabies virus. Infected hosts may experience 1, 2 or more of these phases. The following warning signs are associated with the earliest phase:
4. Licking, biting or chewing at the area of the infectious bite
8. Unusually docile behavior in an active animal
9. Biting or snapping
Progressive Warning Signs
As the virus moves from the muscle to the spinal cord, brain and eventually the saliva glands, different signs will appear. These symptoms usually occur in the last 2 phases of the virus:
10. Heightened sensitivity to light, touch or sound
11. Jaw hangs open
12. Difficulty swallowing
13. Heavy breathing
14. Choking sounds or motions
15. Eating unusual items
16. Hiding in dark places
17. Paralysis of the hind legs or staggering
18. Loss of control over the throat
19. Foaming at the mouth
20. Disorientation or lack of coordination
21. Loss of appetite
23. Fear of water
25. Dilated pupils
Symptoms can appear as early as 10 days after the bite to as long as months afterward.
This video provides an overview of symptoms and additional information:
Dogs who are not vaccinated or allowed outdoors without supervision have a higher risk of contracting rabies from an infected animal. Prevention is necessary to lower the risk of contracting or spreading this deadly disease.
Dogs can be vaccinated for rabies. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, don’t experience rabies and therefore don’t offer this vaccination. Keep your dog leashed outdoors and always supervise the dog when outside. Avoid contact with wild animals where possible.
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If you suspect your dog has been exposed to an infected animal or exhibits any of the listed warning signs of rabies in dogs, it is important to get to your veterinarian’s office as soon as possible. Don’t place your hands or any other part of your body near the dog’s mouth. Use a crate or other confined enclosure and, in the event of aggressive or severe signs, head to the nearest animal emergency clinic.
If you have been in contact with an animal you suspect is infected or you have been bitten, report the incident immediately and seek medical care. Rabies is a deadly disease and survival is rare, so don’t delay in reporting incidents and seeking care.
This pet health content was reviewed by a veterinarian.