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6 Symptoms of a Dog with Rabies

The Tell-Tale Signs of a Rabid Dog

By Sam Bourne. November 14, 2013 | See Comments

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Having a dog with rabies is frightening, but what’s more scary is not knowing the signs. Given the rapid onset of the disease, and how low the survival rate is once symptoms show, it pays to know what the virus looks like before it is too late. If you believe your dog might have contracted rabies, you should take them to the vet immediately.

Rabies is terrifying -- it sets in quickly and the rate of survival once symptoms are present is staggeringly low. While the likelihood of your dog actually contracting rabies is very low, especially since most states require your dog to be vaccinated, if you have any reason to believe that your dog has rabies, it helps to know what to keep an eye out for. Here are some of the most notable symptoms of a dog with rabies.

1. Lethargy

Often the first sign of rabies (as well as a lot of other diseases), if your dog is acting unusually tired or low-energy, it could be a symptom of the onset of rabies.

2. Fever

Yet another universal symptom that can be attributed to rabies, dogs suffering from the virus often run a fever, as a high temperature is one of the body’s primary responses to a viral infection.

3. Vomiting

Also symptomatic of a plethora of conditions, vomiting is often a sign that your dog is fighting off something. While a vomiting dog is rarely cause to rush to the hospital for fear of rabies, if you have reason to suspect that your dog is infected, it's time to head to the vet.

4. Excessive drooling

The quintessential rabies trademark -- foaming at the mouth. A result of a paralysis of the jaw or throat, a dog with rabies often has problems swallowing, which can cause slight drooling (not to be mistaken with everyday drooling, if your dog is a slobberer), or all out frothing. Another result of jaw/throat paralysis is an inability to eat or drink, which should also be noted as a potential symptom of rabies.

5. Sensitivity

Dogs suffering from rabies tend to experience a heightened sensitivity to a number of things, predominantly light, touch, and sound. Photophobia, or sensitivity to light, is the most notable sensitivity, resulting in dogs receding from brightly lit areas and squinting. Sensitivity to sound and touch can be harder to discern, considering your dog would most likely already be acting erratically, making it hard to differentiate between your dog overreacting to sound or touch stimuli, or just acting peculiar in general. These sensitivities can become so severe as to result in a seizure.

6. Odd behavior

When you think of rabies, the first thing that leaps to mind (aside from foaming at the mouth) is strange and erratic behavior. Some peculiar behaviors you may witness are:

  • Unchecked aggression
  • Hallucinations (barking/snapping at nothing)
  • Self-mutilation, such as non-stop gnawing at the infected wound
  • Unsteadiness or disorientation (an appearance of drunkenness)

Known to make otherwise friendly dogs vicious, this virus can effect your dog in a couple of behavioral ways. There is the widely perceived “furious” type of rabies, in which a dog will exhibit aggressive behavior -- snapping, growling, and yelping at the drop of a hat -- and there is the more sedated “paralytic” type of rabies (aka dumb rabies) in which a dog appears weak and lacking in coordination, resulting in partial paralysis. Cases can vary, and in many instances, dogs will exhibit a mixture of both types of rabies behavior, often with rapid, unpredictable changes between the two.

When in Doubt...

Since the odds of surviving rabies are so low, if you have reason to believe that your dog might have come into contact with the virus from a wild animal or another dog who was acting strangely, it's best to take them to the vet regardless of any visible symptoms. Early treatment is the best chance for survival.

More on Dog Viruses

Your Puppy Vaccination Schedule
Top Mosquito Diseases
Parvo in Dogs
Why Is My Pet Coughing

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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