What are Rabies in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

rabies dog

What is Rabies in Dogs?

Rabies in dogs is a fatal viral disease that affects the animal's central nervous system. It is caused by the rabies virus. 

The rabies virus is present worldwide. However, some countries have been declared free from rabies because they have successfully eliminated the disease through effective programs. Rabies is spread through animal bites. 

"If a dog gets bitten by an infected animal, the risk of infection is significantly high," explains Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a registered veterinarian specializing in canine health at SpiritDog Training.

What Causes Rabies in Dogs?

Rabies in dogs belongs to the Rhabdoviridae family. It is found in the saliva of infected animals.

• The virus is usually transmitted through the saliva of a rabies-infected animal.

• Most commonly it is caused by a bite or scratch. 

• The virus enters the body and swiftly moves through the nerves to reach the brain. It causes inflammation and damage. 

•Thereafter, it spreads to other organs, including the salivary glands. This increases the risk of transmission through biting.

• Dogs can pass the rabies virus to humans.

Rabies Symptoms in Dogs

After being bitten by a rabid animal, the disease progresses in distinct stages. 

1. Prodromal Phase

It is usually marked by a noticeable change in the dog's behavior. Normally calm dogs become restless, while active pets become timid or nervous. The period in the rabies-infected dog lasts for 2-3 days. Subsequently, there are two recognized forms of the disease:

2. Furious Rabies

In this form, the rabid dog becomes aggressive and highly excitable. They may exhibit abnormal eating habits, such as consuming stones, dirt, or garbage (pica). As paralysis sets in, the dog may lose the ability to eat and drink. 

3. Dumb Rabies

This is the more prevalent form in dogs. It is characterized by progressive paralysis that affects the limbs, distorts the face, and causes difficulty swallowing. 

Owners might mistakenly believe their dog has something lodged in the mouth or throat. Caution must be exercised during examination since rabies can be transmitted through saliva. 

Clinical Signs of Rabies in Dogs

Aggressive behavior: Dogs infected with rabies may exhibit uncharacteristic aggression. Rabies Infected dogs may get easily upset and annoyed. They may even attack without any provocation.

Excessive drooling: Rabies can cause excessive salivation in dogs. You may notice the dog drooling excessively, with saliva often dripping from its mouth.

Abnormal vocalization: Infected dogs may produce unusual sounds or have changes in their bark. They may bark, growl, or whimper differently than usual.

Behavioral changes: It is one of the early signs of rabies in dogs. They may display sudden and extreme changes in behavior. They may become unusually withdrawn, disoriented, or even appear depressed.

Lack of coordination: Rabies can cause neurological symptoms, leading to a lack of coordination in dogs. They may stumble, have difficulty maintaining balance, or experience seizures.

Fever and lethargy: Rabies Infected dogs may experience fever and extreme tiredness. Lethargy can also be a symptom of rabies. 

Changes in appetite: Dogs may experience changes in their appetite. They may lose interest in food or exhibit erratic eating patterns.

Rabies in Dogs: Diagnosis

Rabies diagnosis is confirmed through a direct fluorescence antibody (DFA) test on brain tissue samples.

• The test is conducted by approved laboratories on deceased or euthanized dogs.

• Diagnosing rabies in living animals relies on clinical signs and patient history.

• Confirming rabies can be difficult in areas with low virus prevalence.

• Early rabies symptoms may resemble other medical conditions.

Rabies has an incubation period, which is the time before signs show up. It can range from ten days to one year. Usually, in dogs, this period is around two weeks to four months.

The time taken for the signs of rabies in dogs to appear depends on various factors. Some of the factors can be:

• The severity of the bite

• The amount of virus injected

• The infection location

Rabies in Dogs Treatment

As earlier mentioned, Rabies in puppies is a deadly virus with no known cure. Unfortunately, the outcome for an unvaccinated dog will always be fatal.

•  Contact your Vet Immediately: If you believe your dog is infected by rabies immediately seek veterinary assistance. Even if you notice early signs of rabies, get your pet tested. Rabies is a severe and potentially deadly illness. Hence, take immediate action.

•  Isolating and Observing Your Dog: If your dog has come into contact with a potentially rabid animal, isolate your pet for a certain period. Additionally, closely watch for signs of rabies in dogs. 

•  Euthanasia: If a dog is confirmed to have rabies or exhibits severe symptoms, a vet may suggest euthanasia. It is looked at as a humane measure to prevent prolonged suffering. 

•  Reporting and Quarantine: Every place has its own rules to deal with rabies-infected dogs. Hence, it is crucial to inform the local authorities. If a vaccinated dog bites another animal or human, it will be placed in a designated facility for quarantine.

Rabies in Dogs: How to Prevent It?

• Keep your dog's vaccination records up to date and readily accessible.

• Promptly address any wounds or bites your dog may sustain, and consult with a veterinarian if necessary.

•  Teach children to avoid approaching unfamiliar dogs and to report any bites or scratches immediately.

•  Do not handle or attempt to rehabilitate wildlife that may carry the rabies virus.

•  Educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of rabies in dogs after biting to recognize any potential cases.


In conclusion, rabies in dogs is a deadly viral disease transmitted through bites. Vaccination, immediate medical attention, and responsible pet ownership are crucial for prevention and control.


1. How common is rabies in dogs?
Rabies in dogs is a relatively common viral disease, especially in regions where the virus is prevalent among wildlife populations. The exact prevalence may vary depending on the geographical location and vaccination rates in a particular area. 

2. Can rabies in dogs be cured?
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for rabies once clinical signs appear in dogs. Prevention is the key to combating rabies in dogs. Vaccination is highly effective in preventing the disease. 

3. How to spot rabies in dogs?
Recognizing the signs of rabies in dogs is crucial for early detection and appropriate action. The symptoms of rabies after dog biting may vary. 

Some of the common rabies in dogs, signs are behavioral changes. Dogs with rabies may also exhibit excessive salivation, difficulty swallowing, and abnormal vocalization. 
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