Rabies in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Rabies in Dogs
Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

“The earliest symptoms that develop are behavioral changes and
an alteration in a dog’s personality.”

Rabies. The word alone conjures up fear for both human and animal life. Annually, the disease is responsible for 40,000 to 70,000 human deaths worldwide. Widespread vaccination of dogs and cats has greatly reduced the incidence of this deadly dog disease in the United States, but still a handful of people and hundreds of pets die each year from this dreaded viral infection.

Overview/Snapshot of the Disease

Rabies is caused by a virus that is present in the saliva of an infected animal. The disease is most frequently transmitted through bite wounds, but an animal or person can also develop the disease if virus-laden saliva comes in contact with an open skin wound.

In the United States, wildlife (primarily skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and bats) are the most likely transmitters to pets.

Rabies Symptoms in Dogs

After the virus enters the body, it travels through nerve cells to the brain at which point symptoms begin. The time between infection and the earliest clinical signs of the disease can vary greatly depending on the distance between the bite wound and the brain and the amount of virus that entered the body. The virus can take weeks, months, or even up to a year to slowly make its way from its entry site to the brain.

The earliest symptoms that develop are behavioral changes and an alteration in a dog’s personality. For example, a friendly and outgoing dog may all of a sudden want to be by itself or an aggressive dog may become docile. Other symptoms may include a fever, difficulty walking, seizures, a change in the sound of their barks, and licking at the site of the bite wound.

Next, dogs enter the furious phase of infection and display the classic “mad dog” symptoms. Pets become easily irritated and extremely aggressive. They are seemingly fearless and will often not stop during an attack even if they are severely wounded.

During the final or “dumb” phase, weakness and eventual paralysis sets in. Dogs become unable to swallow and may drool or foam at the mouth. Death generally occurs when the muscles that control breathing become paralyzed.

Once a dog develops symptoms, death will occur within ten days.


The disease is caused when the rabies virus enters the body of an unvaccinated dog, usually via the bite of an infected animal, and infects the brain.

Rabies Treatment

Once a dog begins to display symptoms of a rabid dog, treatment is useless, and the disease will result in death. If a dog bites a person or has been exposed to a potentially rabid animal, quarantine protocols or euthanasia may be necessary depending on the pet’s vaccination status and local regulations.

If your dog has been bitten, talk to your veterinarian. If a person has been bitten, call a human medical doctor.


Safe, effective, and inexpensive vaccines are readily available through your veterinarian or a vaccination clinic. Remember, vaccination not only protects pets but also the people who come in contact with them.

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