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Rabies in Dogs

Rabies is a deadly yet preventable disease that dogs can contract from infected animals. In this blog, our Oceanside vets share vital information about rabies and why it is important to vaccinate your dog against it.

What Is Rabies & How Can It Affect My Dog?

Rabies is a virus that affects the brain and is transmitted through contact with an infected animal's saliva. This virus can infect pets, livestock, wildlife, and humans. 

The CDC observes around 5,000 cases of rabies in animals each year, with most of them being wild animals. Bats, raccoons, foxes, and skunks are the animals most likely to carry the virus. 

Unfortunately, the virus is almost always fatal. Once signs of the virus appear, the infected animal is expected to die within a few days.

How Can a Dog Get Rabies

To contract rabies, your dog must come into contact with an infected animal's saliva, usually through a bite. It takes around 10 to 14 days for your dog to start exhibiting clinical symptoms.

However, symptoms may take months or even years to manifest, depending on how your pet was exposed to the virus. The virus has to travel through your dog's nervous system until it reaches the brain, and the farther it has to travel, the longer it can take.

Symptoms of Rabies in Dogs

Dogs with rabies may exhibit numerous signs and symptoms, including:

  • 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

Signs Your Dog Has Rabies at the Different Stages

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 - During the stage of rabies, a dog tends to show changes in their behavior that are different from their usual personality. For instance, if your dog is generally shy, they may become more outgoing, and if they are typically more social, they might become more aggressive. If you notice any unusual changes in your dog's behavior, especially after an unknown animal has bitten them, it is essential to keep them away from other pets and family members and contact your veterinarian immediately.

Furious stage - At this stage, your pet's behavior can become dangerous as it may feel anxious and aggressive. They may excessively cry and even experience seizures, which can result in loss of appetite. The virus has now reached the stage where it attacks the nervous system, making it difficult for your dog to swallow, leading to a classic symptom of excessive drooling, commonly called 'foaming at the mouth.'

Paralytic stage - In the final stage of rabies, a rabid dog will enter into a coma and will not be able to breathe. Sadly, this is also the stage where pets usually pass away. This stage typically occurs about seven days after the first symptoms appear, and death usually happens within three days. 

How to Test a Dog For Rabies

If your dog has not been vaccinated against rabies and gets into a fight with an infected animal, you will face some difficult decisions.

It's impossible to test a living animal for rabies, so you'll have to choose whether to quarantine your pet and wait for symptoms to appear or to put your beloved family member to sleep.

Sadly, pets put into quarantine are unlikely to survive even if they don't show symptoms initially, and prolonging their suffering would only be a waste of time.

Can rabies in dogs be treated?

Once your dog has become infected with rabies, a veterinarian cannot 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 generate a strong immune response. The chances of the vaccine failing are very low.

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

Can I vaccinate my own dog for rabies?

If you choose to vaccinate your pet for rabies, it's important to note that state public health and law enforcement officials won't recognize your vaccination as valid. You and your pet will be treated as if no rabies vaccine was administered.

However, if you can prove that your dog has received the rabies vaccine, you can confirm that there is no threat of rabies being transmitted. On the other hand, if your dog's vaccinations aren't current, they may be quarantined or even euthanized due to the potential threat.

It's also important to note that dogs that have bitten people need to be confined for at least 10 days to see if rabies develops.

How often should a dog receive their rabies vaccine?

Although not required in some areas, the rabies vaccine protects your puppy or dog's health from various fatal illnesses.

Our veterinarians at Oceanside suggest that the rabies vaccine should be a core vaccine for puppies between 14 and 16 weeks old. This vaccine is also part of our core puppy and dog vaccinations.

Since vaccine antibodies decrease over time, the rabies vaccine's effectiveness will eventually diminish. For this reason, follow-up booster doses should be given.

Boosters are meant to immunize animals not responding to the initial dose. They should be given once your dog reaches 12 to 16 months old and then every 1 to 3 years, depending on the vaccine type used by your veterinarian.

Are there any potential side effects to the rabies vaccine?

The 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

It's important to note that some dogs may develop a small, painless swelling at the injection site after receiving the rabies vaccine, which can last for a few weeks. In rare cases, a small, circular area of hair loss may also develop at the injection site.

However, it's also possible that some dogs may not experience any side effects from the vaccine at all. If any side effects occur, they usually start within an hour of vaccination and disappear within one or two days. 

It's rare, but some dogs may react severely to the rabies vaccine, typically caused by an immune system overreaction. Serious side effects usually manifest immediately or within one or two hours after vaccination.

Some of the 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.

Can my dog still get rabies after they've been 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.

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 it time for your dog to get their next rabies booster shot? Contact our Oceanside vets today to schedule an appointment.

Specialty Vets at Surfside Animal Hospital

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