6 Symptoms of a Dog with Rabies The Tell-Tale Signs of a Rabid Dog

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Having a dog with rabies is frightening, but whatโ€™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 caused 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. As 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 affect 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, such as snapping, growling, and yelping at the drop of a hat. 

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.

How to prevent rabies in dogs?

Luckily, there are ways to prevent rabies in dogs. Here are our top tips for keeping your pup safe from this deadly disease:

  1. Get your dog vaccinated against rabies. Annual vaccinations are the best way to protect your pet from this horrible virus, which is spread through saliva when an infected animal bites another animal or human. There are two main types of rabies vaccinations: killed vaccines and modified live vaccines. The killed vaccines are comprised of dead virus particles that stimulate the immune system without causing infection or disease. Modified live vaccines contain live viruses that have been weakened so they can't cause disease but still stimulate an immune response, which prevents them from causing infection or disease. Your vet can tell you whether a vaccine is right for your pooch.

  1. Make sure all pets in your household have proof of their vaccination status. The only way you'll know if any of them have been vaccinated against rabies is if they have proof from a vet, either a tag on their collar or paperwork from a visit at the vet's office, so make sure all pets in the house have it!

  1. Keep wild animals away from your dogs! Wild animals like raccoons and bats can carry rabies without showing any symptoms until it's too late, so keep them away.

  1. Make sure all members of your household are aware of this information and know how to prevent rabies in dogs by keeping their pets vaccinated regularly, staying away from wild animals, and making sure they don't bite anyone or anything else either accidentally or on purpose (such as when playing).

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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