Can Dogs Be Treated for Rabies?

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Introduction

Rabies is one of the most common diseases in animals that we humans have heard of. The thought of a rabid animal - of any kind - probably stirs images of a crazy-eyed animal with foam frothing at the mouth. This deadly virus certainly doesn't paint a pretty picture, but some lucky dogs have survived. Unfortunately, in most cases of rabies in animals, the virus kills the host. In the event the rabies virus was not very strong in the infected animal, there is a good chance the bite victim will not develop rabies. 

Rabies is easily spread when an infected animal bites a non-infected animal. We often associate rabies with skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and bats, but dogs are certainly susceptible. 

In dogs, the incubation period of the virus is usually two weeks to four months. There are numerous factors that contribute to how quickly the virus reaches the nervous tissue, including severity of the bite, site of infection, and amount of virus transmitted. While rabies is largely considered fatal, it is possible to interrupt the progression of the virus with an anti-rabies serum administered at the first signs of infection. 

Signs a Dog Has Rabies

Understanding the signs of a rabid animal is the first step to potentially saving your dog from succumbing to the virus. Rabies is usually transmitted through a bite, but other methods include scratches or infected blood or saliva that somehow get into the animal's open wound.

There are several different phases of rabies and dogs that have been bitten by a rabid animal may experience one or all three. In the beginning, your dog may appear restless, aggressive, irritable, shy, lick, bite or chew the infected area, have a fever, and bite or snap at you. As the virus progresses and moves to the spinal cord, brain, and saliva glands, they have a heightened sensitivity to light, a hard time swallowing, heavy breathing, begin hiding in dark places, eat strange items, lose control over their throat, and start foaming at the mouth. 

It is very important you understand all the various signs of rabies, especially if you live in a rural area where your dog may come in contact with rabid animals.

Body Language

Here are some signs your dog has rabies:
  • Growling
  • Chewing
  • Scratching
  • Weakness

Other Signs

These are other signs you may notice if your dog has rabies:
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Seizures
  • Biting or Snapping
  • Heavy Breathing
  • Choking Sounds
  • Starting to Eat Strange Things
  • Hiding in Dark Places
  • Foaming at the Mouth
  • Jaw Hangs Open
  • Disorientation
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Trembling
  • Fear of Water

History of Dogs and Rabies

Rabies is a truly tragic virus that can take your furry best friend away from you in the blink of an eye. In the mid-1800s, rabies was a fatal disease that killed nearly every animal that was exposed to it. Thankfully, over time we have learned how to protect our pets from the threat of rabies, namely through vaccinations that were not available in the 19th century. 

In 2015 alone, rabies was the result of 17,400 deaths worldwide. This includes dogs, wild animals, and humans. Unfortunately, in Asia, Africa, and parts of the Americas, dogs are the main host of the virus. This is due to numerous factors, but mostly because mandatory vaccination of rabies is not as effective in rural parts of the world. 

The first known rabies vaccination for humans was developed in 1885 and a more effective version was introduced in 1908. However, a rabies vaccination was not developed for dogs until 1979. Since then, it has largely helped eliminate the threat of rabies in many parts of the world. 

Science Behind Treating Dogs For Rabies

Because rabies is such an invasive virus, there is no approved treatment for a dog with rabies. While anti-rabies serums have had some success, they are not widely used. If a dog is suspected to have contracted rabies, he must be kept in isolation and monitored closely. In the event the dog starts to display any of the signs of symptoms mentioned above, he will likely have to be euthanized. 

The rabies virus attacks the nervous system, resulting in brain inflammation and serious damage to the muscle tissue, spinal cord, and brain. Because of this, it is not easy to treat. This is why the rabies vaccination is so important when it comes to protecting our beloved pets. 

How to React if Your Dog Has Rabies

  • Call your vet right away!
  • Do not let the dog bite you or make contact with your skin.
  • Isolate the dog.

Safety Tips for Preventing Rabies

  • Keep your dog from roaming around outdoors.
  • Use a lead on walks.
  • Do what you can to keep raccoons from coming on your property.
  • Get regular rabies vaccines!