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How To Know If Your Dog Has Rabies

How To Know If Your Dog Has Rabies

You might be wondering if rabies in dogs is really that much of a concern. Well, our Fort Collins vets are here to tell you all about this deadly disease and why you should get your dog vaccinated against it.

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

In order 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 reached the brain, so the farther it is to start with, 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

What Are The Stages Of Rabies?

Generally, there are three recognizable stages of the rabies virus in dogs, below 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 differs 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. 

Can You Test 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.

There is no way to test a living animal for rabies so 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 Fort Collins 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. 

Are There Rabies Vaccine Side Effects?

Side effects of rabies vaccinations in dogs will usually be due to the fact that 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.

Can My Dog 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. In fact, 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 about time for your dog to get their next round of rabies booster shots? Contact our Fort Collins vets today to schedule an appointment so we can help protect your pup.

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South Mesa Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients to our veterinary hospital! Our team is passionate about the health of Fort Collins pets. Reach out today to book your pet's first appointment.

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