Rabies in Dogs - What Owners Should Look Out For

Rabies in Dogs - What Owners Should Look Out For

Author WDF Staff


There aren’t many diseases dog owners worry about more than rabies. This dangerous disease was even portrayed in movies like “Old Yeller,” and its effects were vividly described. Many dog owners had nightmares about their dogs catching this terrible disease, and that is not something you’d want happening to you and your dog. But how dangerous rabies in dogs actually is? Here is what you should know about it and the effect it can have on your beloved pet.

What kind of disease is rabies?

Rabies is a viral, zoonotic disease caused by the rabies virus. It can infect all mammals, and that includes us, humans. This virus is found all over the world, and it is not limited to certain parts of it like some other dangerous viruses are. However, due to the advancement in viral studies, rabies vaccination was discovered. Some parts of the world are now considered rabies-free.

Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Iceland, England, Ireland, and parts of Scandinavia managed to completely eradicate the disease through strict vaccination rules and controls. This is, unfortunately, an incurable virus once the symptoms of rabies start showing.

aggressive dog

How does it affect dogs?

If your dog gets infected by rabies, the virus will attack the dog’s spinal cord and brain. After the initial infection, the virus will stay in the dog’s body and multiply. It will work its way to the spinal cord, brain, and salivary glands, which is how it transmits.

How can dogs get infected?

The most common way of infection is through a bite of an infected animal. In different parts of the world, various animals are the primary carriers. For example, in Europe, foxes are the main carriers. In Latin America, Asia, and Africa, stray dogs are the main culprits. In those places where dogs are the main carriers, human infections are common. Dogs might get close to humans, and that is when bites occur.

german shepherd barking

How long after the bite do dogs get sick?

The incubation period of rabies will vary from species to species. It will also depend on a few factors, like how much virus was present in the infected animal’s saliva and where the bite occurred on the victim’s body. The closer the bite to the brain, the faster the infection will spread. The same goes for the amount of virus in the infected animal’s saliva.

If we assume the bite happened somewhere on the dog’s body, away from the head, and the number of viruses in the saliva was standard, the incubation period can be anywhere from 15 to 120 days.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Many dog owners wonder whether it is possible to survive a bite from a rabid animal. The answer is - YES. However, you need to act quickly. If the disease is treated immediately after the bite and the dog or human was vaccinated, survival rates are pretty high.

Three stages of rabies

After a dog gets infected, the disease will develop in stages. All of these stages have specific symptoms, and they were extensively studied. Luckily, our understanding of the disease is pretty good, so we can do something about it. The first stage is the prodromal phase, after which the disease will develop into furious or dumb rabies.

Prodromal phase

In the prodromal phase of the disease, right when the infection occurred, the dog will go through a change in their temperament or behavior. Calm dogs might become agitated and active, happy dogs might become shy or overly nervous and aggressive.

dog teeth

Furious rabies

Furious rabies is the clinical form of the disease most dog owners have in their minds. In this form, dogs show signs of aggression and a depraved appetite. They start chewing on rocks, furniture, wood, or anything they can get their jaws on. Eventually, complete paralysis can happen, and the infected dog will die of a violent seizure.

Dumb rabies

Dumb rabies is what usually happens to dogs. Dogs will not develop aggression, but they will have other rabies symptoms like difficulty eating and drinking, distortion of the face, and progressive limb paralysis. Eventually, dogs reach a phase where they are completely paralyzed and comatose. That is usually when death occurs.


There is one thing all dog owners should know. When dogs start exhibiting rabies symptoms, the disease is already impossible to cure or treat. However, if you notice the bite early, you can take your dog to the vet, and their life might just be saved.

The inventor of the anti-rabies serum, the famous French scientist and inventor Louis Pasteur, showed, it is possible to stop the progression of the disease. However, stopping rabies from completely taking your dog can be done only before the virus enters the dog’s spinal cord. If the virus enters it, there is no chance of saving the dog. Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time before the disease takes them.

Rabies vaccination

If you read this article carefully, you can clearly understand that this disease should not be taken lightly. Luckily, the good news is that rabies is entirely preventable. Some countries have proven that with strict measures and controls, this disease can be eradicated entirely. Rabies vaccines are widely available, and vaccinated dogs are immune to the disease.

Rabies vaccines are completely safe and highly effective against the disease. In the modern world, dogs, cats, horses, ferrets, pet foxes, and other mammals are vaccinated against rabies. This is the best and only way to ensure you or your dog will not contract the disease.

Want to know more about rabies vaccinations? Check out this article - Rabies vaccinations for dogs.

Can I get rabies?

Probably the worst thing about this disease is that it is zoonotic. That means it can jump from one species to the next. If your dog got bit by a rabid animal, developed symptoms, then bit you, you might catch the disease. Luckily, there are vaccines for humans, and those in the high-risk group should be vaccinated (veterinarians, vet students, animal control officers, etc.)

World Dog Finder team

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