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Rabies is a difficult, and often deadly, viral polioencephalitis that affects the gray matter of a dog’s brain and its central nervous system (CNS). Rabies primarily transmits to dogs through bites from disease carriers: bats, skunks, foxes, and raccoons. The virus is retained within a rabid animal’s salivary glands and spreads through the saliva.

Upon infection, Rabies replicates in muscle cells and then spreads to nearby nerve fibers, including all motor, sensory, and peripheral nerves. After which, the virus travels to the CNS through nerve fluid. Rabies takes up to one month to develop and once the symptoms have set in, the virus grows rapidly in dogs.


Symptoms of Rabies in Dogs

There are two known types of rabies in dogs: paralytic and furious. In the early stages of rabies infection, dogs show moderate signs of CNS abnormalities. This early stage lasts from one to three days. After that, most dogs progress to the furious stage, or the paralytic stage, or a compound of the two. Other dogs succumb to Rabies without showing any major symptoms.

Furious rabies is identified by drastic changes in behavior, including attack and aggression behavior. Paralytic rabies, also known as dumb rabies, is identified by a weakened body and a loss of coordination, followed by paralysis.

Rabies is a fast-paced virus. Prognosis is poor if the infection is not treated soon after the symptoms have set in. With that said, if you suspect your dog has made contact with a Rabies disease carrier for any reason, take your dog to a veterinarian immediately. Even if your dog has been vaccinated for Rabies, you must consult your veterinarian to ensure the virus will not spread.

Here are some rabies symptoms in dogs to watch out for:

  • Fever
  • Pica
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Jaw is dropped
  • Hydrophobia
  • Inability to swallow
  • Change in tone of bark
  • Excessive excitability
  • Unusual shyness or aggression
  • Muscular lack of coordination
  • Constant irritability/changes in attitude and behavior
  • Paralysis in the mandible and larynx
  • Excessive salivation (hypersalivation), or frothy saliva


Causes of Rabies in Dogs

Rabies is a single-stranded Ribonucleic acid (RNA) virus in the Rhabdoviridae family. It is spread through the blood and saliva of infected animals. Furthermore, in rare cases, the virus can spread through escaping gasses from decomposing animal remains.


Diagnosing Rabies in Dogs

If you think your dog may have rabies, call your veterinarian right away. If safety permits, cage your dog and then take him to the veterinarian to be isolated. If your dog is displaying vicious behavior and you think you’re at risk of being scratched or bitten, contact animal control to catch him for you.

After you bring your dog to the veterinarian, he will be quarantined for 10 days. This is for the safety of all, including your dog. Within this timeframe, the rabies infection will either be confirmed or not.

Rabies symptoms are often confused with other conditions that cause aggressive behavior. So, in order to confirm that the virus is present, a laboratory blood analysis must be conducted. Note however that blood testing for rabies is not a veterinary procedure. In the United States, diagnosing rabies is done with a post-mortem direct fluorescence antibody test conducted by a state-approved laboratory. While in quarantine, if your dog continues showing progressive signs of rabies, your veterinarian will opt to euthanize him.

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