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What is rabies?

Rabies is a severe and most often fatal virus which effects the central nervous system and brain. Rabies effects all mammals including dogs, cats and humans.  In many countries, including the UK, USA, India, Malaysia and Hong Kong, rabies is a notifiable disease. This means if you suspect its presence, you must inform the appropriate authorities (in the UK it’s the Animal and Plant Agency (APHA)) immediately. Failure to do so is an offence.

What are the symptoms of rabies?

The virus can incubate from 10 days to 8 weeks before symptoms maybe noticeable.

The early symptoms of rabies are:-

  • Behavioural changes
  • Sensitivity to noise or light
  • Dogs may seek an excessive amount of attention

These symptoms may last for a couple of days.  Most dogs will then progress onto the next stage which can take on almost 2 contrasting forms. Furious rabies is characterised by increased aggression, attacking other animals and handlers.  Paralytic rabies shows symptoms of weakness, loss of coordination and paralysis.

Symptoms to look out for are: –

  • Increased aggression or shyness
  • Licking, biting or chewing area where they have been bitten
  • Fever
  • Sensitive to light, touch and sound
  • Staring eyes
  • Drooping lower jaw
  • Increased salivation
  • Thirst
  • difficulty to swallow
  • paralysis

What are the causes of rabies?

Rabies is transmitted through blood and saliva of an infected animal. It is usually transmitted via a bite from an infected animal but rabid saliva can also infect an open wound, nostrils, mouth, lips, eyes and ears.

What are the risk factors?

Although rabies has been eradicated from the UK, a strain of the disease can still be found in bats. In the US the most common carriers of rabies are bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes. If a pet mammal is bitten or scratched by a bat, or another animal that may be rabid, cage or isolate your pet and consult your vet immediately. It is best not to touch your pet as the rabies virus can survive for up to 2 hours on your pet’s skin.  If you must handle your pet, wear protective gloves and clothing.

What treatment will my dog receive?

This virus develops rapidly so early diagnosis and treatment is essential for any chance of recovery.  If not treated quickly, prognosis is poor. Unfortunately, if unvaccinated, rabies is always fatal within 7-10 days of initial symptoms occurring.

If an unvaccinated animal has been exposed to or bitten by a known rabid animal, they must be quarantined for up to 6 months. If a human has been bitten or scratched by a vaccinated animal, the animal must be quarantined and monitored for 10 days.

How is rabies in my dog diagnosed?

If you have any reason to believe your pet has rabies, do not approach it and contact your vet immediately. They will either send someone or put you on to someone who can catch the animal and take it to quarantine.  If your pet is acting aggressively and there is any chance you are likely to be scratched or bitten, keep yourself and anyone else safely away and wait until animal control arrives.

The animal’s saliva can be tested for the presence of the virus. However, once the symptoms appear there is no cure and the disease is fatal.  The only conclusive method of diagnosing rabies is by the analysis of brain tissue after death.

What are the long-term effects of rabies?

Once symptoms have begun to show rabies is fatal in all animals, as well as humans.  If caught early enough and treated with intense medical care there is a small chance of survival.  Although, such medical care is unlikely to be offered to a pet and they are more likely to be euthanised to save them from suffering.

How can I prevent my dog from being infected with rabies?

In the US, rabies is reported in cats more than any other domestic pet.  It is therefore advisable to make sure cats are vaccinated and kept indoors, in many states vaccination is mandatory. In countries where rabies hasn’t been eradicated, dogs who roam outdoors and are exposed to wild animals are most at risk and so it is advisable to walk your dog on a leash.  It is essential (in the US it is the law) to have dogs vaccinated. Dogs who have bitten humans are confined for 10 days to see if rabies develops, but if their vaccination records are not up to date, they will be placed in lengthy quarantine or even euthanised. If an unvaccinated pet has been exposed to a rabid animal, Public Health authorities advise that the animal be euthanized immediately.  If the owner does not agree to this, the animal will be quarantined for 6 months, most likely, at the owner’s expense.

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