Rabies is a preventable deadly virus with almost 100% fatal outcome in most cases (1). If your dog becomes infected with rabies, there is little to no chance of survival, which is why vaccination is crucial (2). Knowing about the signs of rabies in dogs may help you to save your pet in some cases, as well as yourself, since rabies is a zoonotic disease (3).
Table of Contents
What Is Rabies in Dogs?
Canine rabies is a type of virus which affects a dog's central nervous system, spinal cord and brain (4). Sadly, both canine rabies and human rabies remain neglected and constantly reemerging diseases (5, 6).
The virus initially settles in the muscle tissue and moves to the dog's nervous system, ultimately entering saliva glands (7). This is why most pictures of this disease show dogs salivating or foaming at the mouth, as the dog rabies photo above.
The rabies virus will kill the animal-host in nearly 100% of cases (8). The virus cannot survive for longer than 24 hours outside of the host, which can be either a human, or a domestic or wild animal.
How Rabies Spreads?
Statistically, dogs are the most common carriers of rabies (10). Other common carriers of rabies are wild animals because they are not vaccinated, and rabies is most frequently found in foxes, bats and raccoons (11).
Dogs themselves will most often get rabies through saliva coming out from another affected animal (12). It can be transmitted most easily by a dog bite. Other transmission ways are also possible: eyes, nose, mouth, aerosol transmission or organ transplantation, but they're much less common (13, 14, 15, 16).
Dogs are more prone to catching rabies if they have a scratch, laceration or an open wound through which the virus can enter their body.
If you notice a dog with symptoms of rabies in your neighborhood, you should report it immediately to the animal control center in order to stop the spread to other animals.
10 Signs of Rabies in Dogs
Signs of rabies in dogs do not always show up immediately. Rabies symptoms can appear after 10 days from the infection, or even after a few months. In some rare cases, the incubation period can last for a year (17).
During the “no symptoms” period, the virus is in its latent stage where a dog behaves normally and you cannot notice that there is anything wrong with your pooch.
1. The Initial Stage Symptoms
The first stage where the symptoms are only starting to show to a different degree.
Restlessness. A dog with rabies will have paranoia, and will behave as if they are constantly in fear or waiting for something bad to happen.
Withdrawal. Dogs can become very shy and start hiding away from people, spending a lot of time alone. Even if your dog is still friendly to you, they will lose their upbeat spirits and become melancholic.
Licking the Bite. If a dog has been bitten by a virus carrier, they will often lick, scratch, sniff or even bite the infected wound.
Aggression. Dogs with rabies can become unusually aggressive. Rabies aggression will show up in the initial stage, or it can come after the virus has reached a dog's nervous system. The dog will bark at people and other animals, or even at inanimate things, and even try to bite them.
2. The Advanced Stage Symptoms
At this point, the virus has already reached the dog's brain and potentially affected the dog's spinal cord. This is when your pet will go through the aggression peak.
Furiousness. The dog will seem mad at times. They will bark at anything which passes by, and attack other animals, people and objects. At this stage, a dog can also attack their owner as if they do not recognize them anymore.
Dilated Pupils. If you look into a rabid dog’s eyes, you will notice how their pupils are significantly dilated as if they saw something scary. It will be accompanied by a dog's sense of confusion and disorientation, even in a familiar space.
Seizures. In the advanced rabies stage your dog’s muscles will become affected. You will see the dog trembling and shaking heavily. Ultimately, the affected dog can have one or several seizures.
Lack of Fear. A dog with rabies will have paranoia and increased aggressiveness, which overshadows their regular behavior. They will attack everything and anything since all the innate and learned fear will disappear due to brain being cloudy from the virus.
3. The Final Stage Symptoms
This last stage of rabies signs in dogs will include the paralysis phase. The paralysis can start as partial and after a few days turn into complete paralysis, coma and death. It is also possible for a dog to completely skip the second stage and enter this last one immediately after the first rabies symptoms.
Salivating. This is a common sign of a dog having rabies. Once the virus enters saliva glands, it causes excessive drooling and salivating which looks like a foam. The dog will seem unable to fully close their mouth, with the jaw dropping down. Additionally, the dog won’t be able to eat and they will lose control over their throat.
Paralysis. The paralysis will affect the dog’s mouth, throat, and muscles. The dog’s body will start to tremble and they can lose control over their legs and ability to walk. The paralysis will quickly spread to the other parts of the dog's body, eventually leading to coma and death.
After the first signs of rabies in dogs appear, the animal will pass through the active stage of a virus within around 7 days as every phase is likely to last for approx. 2-3 days.
How to Prevent Rabies in Dogs?
The most effective way to prevent rabies in dogs is vaccination (20). Dogs that are vaccinated have a very good chance of going through rabies unscathed. Non-vaccinated dogs will almost certainly face death (21).
To minimize the risks, keep your pet away from stray dogs and wild animals (raccoons, foxes, bats) as they have the greatest chance of being the carriers of rabies. It's advisable to avoid unpopulated and uncontrolled natural areas like woods. Instead of going there, you can always walk your pooch through a park.
Keep your dog on a leash during regular walks and especially when camping or hiking. Ensure your pet obeys the most basic obedience commands so you can control the dog in case they decide to chase after a raccoon or a fox.
Spread the word about rabies, its symptoms and consequences among your neighbors, friends and family dog owners. If more people are aware of its seriousness, it is more likely that they will report suspicious cases and vaccinate their dogs.
If you see a dog or another animal on your street with symptoms of rabies, report it to the animal shelter or animal control center. Never attempt to catch a suspicious or abandoned dog yourself, as you can be infected with rabies as well.
If you suspect that your dog has rabies, it is crucial to call your vet immediately. The dog will receive a rabies booster shot and will be under observation for one to two months.
When taking your dog to the vet, remember to restrain them just in case. If you can, avoid touching the dog, and if you have to, wear thick protective gloves. If your dog is salivating, do not come close to their mouth. While transporting your dog to the vet, keep them in a crate until the veterinarian takes over.
Rabies is a very serious virus with the almost certain fatal outcome for its host. It is usually transmitted by bite, saliva and open wound. Most common carriers of rabies are raccoons, bats and foxes.
Signs of rabies in dogs range from the initial mild ones such as restlessness and licking the wound to the very obvious ones, like emphasized aggression, erratic behavior, and seizures, ending with the symptoms of foam at the mouth and complete paralysis.
To prevent rabies in your dog, always vaccinate them. It is also advisable to keep your pet away from wild and stray animals, and raise awareness about the dangers of rabies.
READ NEXT: 10 Things You Must Know About Dog Vaccines