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Rabies in Dogs

Pet parents often hear about rabies and the importance of preventing this condition. But why is this? Here, our Alpharetta vets discuss to how tell if your dog has rabies, why this virus is so dangerous and how vaccinations can provide protection against this deadly disease.

What Is Rabies & How Can It Affect My Dog?

The deadly rabies virus has a detrimental impact on the brain and is transmitted through contact with an infected animal's saliva. Pets, livestock, wildlife and humans can all be affected. 

The CDC sees about 5,000 cases of rabies in animals each year, most of which are wild animals. Bats, raccoons, foxes and skunks are the animals most likely to carry this virus. 

The unfortunate reality is that this virus is almost always fatal. Once signs of the deadly virus appear, the animal is expected to die within a few days. 

How Can a Dog Get Rabies

To get rabies, your dog would have to come in contact with an infected animal, more specifically, their saliva. This is typically achieved by being bitten by the infected animal. It can take anywhere from 10 and 14 days for your dog to start showing clinical symptoms.

However, symptoms can take months or years to appear depending on how your pet was exposed to the virus. The virus has to creep along your nervous system until it reaches the brain, so the farther it is to start with, the longer it can take.

So, what are the signs of rabies in a dog? Keep reading to have this and other questions answered.

How to Know if Your Dog Has Rabies

The signs that your dog has rabies can include:

  • Barking differently
  • Excessive drooling
  • Uncharacteristic aggression, fearfulness or even affection 
  • Overreaction to touch, sound or light 
  • Biting at the site where they were exposed to the virus 
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Loss of balance when walking 
  • Partial or complete paralysis
  • Falling 
  • Seizures

What Are The Stages Of Rabies?

Generally, there are three recognizable stages of the rabies virus in dogs, we have listed the stages including the signs and symptoms that accompany each stage:

Prodromal stage - In this stage, a rabid dog will typically exhibit changes in their behavior that differ from their usual personality, if your pup is usually shy, they could become more outgoing, and vice versa. If you see any behavioral abnormalities in your dog after they have obtained an unknown bite, keep them away from any other pets and family members, and call your vet immediately.

Furious stage - This stage is the most dangerous because it makes your pet nervous and even vicious. They might cry out excessively and experience seizures and stop eating. The virus has gotten to the stage where it has begun attacking the nervous system, and it prevents your dog from being able to swallow, leading to the classic symptom of 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, and won't be able to breathe. Unfortunately, this is the stage where pets usually pass away. This often takes place about seven days after symptoms first appear, with death usually happening after about 3 days. 

How to Test a Dog For Rabies

If your dog is not vaccinated against rabies and they have an altercation with an infected animal, you will have some difficult choices to make. This is because there is currently no way to test a living animal for rabies.

This means that pet parents will have to decide whether to quarantine their pet and wait for symptoms to appear, or to euthanize their beloved family member. The unfortunate truth is that pets who are quarantined are not likely to survive even if symptoms do not show initially, and you might just be prolonging their suffering. 

Is Rabies Treatable?

Once your dog has become infected with rabies, there is nothing a veterinarian can offer to treat the disease. Quarantine or euthanasia are your only options. This is why prevention is so critical. 

What Is The Rabies Vaccine?

Rabies vaccines are highly effective and immunogenic. It's rare for the vaccine to fail.

Requirements regarding pet vaccinations vary from city to city and state to state, but keeping your pet's rabies vaccines up to date protects both your dog and the people in your household against this deadly neurological disease. 

How Often Do Dogs Need Rabies Shots?

While it is not mandated in some jurisdictions, The rabies vaccine is an important one on the list of many puppy and dog vaccinations your pooch needs to protect their health and prevent a variety of deadly diseases. 

Our Alpharetta vets recommend the rabies vaccine as a core vaccine to be given to puppies starting between ages 14 to 16 weeks. It is also part of our core puppy and dog vaccinations. 

Because vaccine antibodies wane over time, the rabies vaccine will begin to lose efficacy. This is why follow-up booster doses must be administered. 

Boosters, which are designed to immunize any animals that failed to respond to the initial dose, should be administered once your dog reaches 12 to 16 months old and every 1 to 3 years depending on the type of vaccine your veterinarian uses.

Can I vaccinate my own dog for rabies?

If you were to choose to vaccinate your own animal for rabies, state public health and law enforcement officials will not recognize your vaccination as valid. You and the animal will be treated as if no rabies vaccine was administered.

Additionally, over-the-counter pet vaccinations, such as those for dogs, have the potential to induce an infection or urticarial reaction in pets within hours of administering them. Anaphylactic shock is the most serious form of reaction and can be fatal for dogs if they don't receive immediate treatment.

This is why it is recommended to only have your dog vaccinated at a veterinary or vaccination clinic where there are fluids and medications on hand to help reverse the reaction.

Can my dog still get rabies if they are vaccinated?

While there is still a risk of your dog contracting rabies even while vaccinated, the odds are very low. The rabies vaccine is so effective that dogs who have been vaccinated rarely become infected even when bitten by a rabid animal.

Are There Rabies Vaccine Side Effects?

Side effects of rabies vaccinations in dogs will usually be because the vaccine stimulates the immune system. These can include:

  • Mild loss of appetite 
  • Mild to moderate energy loss for 24 to 36 hours following vaccination 
  • Mild fever
  • Potential swelling or soreness at the injection site

Some dogs develop a small, painless swelling at the injection site that may last for a couple of weeks. In rare cases, a small, circular area of hair loss may develop at the injection site. 

Keep in mind that some dogs won't experience any side effects at all from the rabies vaccine. If side effects do occur, they'll typically begin within an hour of vaccination and vanish within one or two days. 

Rarely, a dog may have a severe reaction to the rabies vaccine, typically due to an overreaction of the immune system. Serious side effects usually come on immediately or within one or two hours after vaccination. 

Rare reactions to the rabies vaccine include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Cough
  • Swelling in the face, eyes or muzzle
  • Fainting or collapse 
  • Hives, which appear as firm lumps on the dog's body and may or may not be itchy
  • Severe swelling or pain at the injection site

Take your dog to a veterinarian for emergency care immediately if you notice any of the symptoms above.

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.

Is your dog due for their routine vaccinations? Contact our Alpharetta vets today to schedule an appointment so we can help protect your pup.

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