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Rabies - A brief Introduction

Recently, while joining a conversation on Facebook, a question was presented on how to tell if a dog is rabid. With the question at hand, I was not sure if I felt comfortable to identify any animal infected with rabies unless the animal was at the final stage, and foaming at the mouth. With my curiosity peeked I began to research.  I soon realized there is more to learn and understand about the disease.  There are many signs to identify whether an animal is infected with rabies prior to the disease developing into the final stages.

What is rabies anyway? "Rabies is an infection caused by a virus. It affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) of any kind of mammal, including humans. It is nearly always deadly if not treated before symptoms begin" (WebMD). The disease is transmitted through the saliva of its host when the host bites its victim. The disease travels from the wound site and into the brain. As is generates into a live infection, the disease then travels into the saliva glands of its host, making the host infectious.  Remarkably, there is an incubation period before for the disease of rabies rears its deadly vengeance.  The incubation period of rabies is generally between six (6) and eight (8) weeks, however it is possible for a host not to display symptoms of the illness for up to six (6) months.

Phases of Rabies

Signs of rabies in dogs and cats are similar. There are typically three (3) stages of the illness; prodromal phase, aggressive phase, and the paralytic phase. According to the earlier signs (prodromal) for rabies may include chewing on the bite site, fever, loss of appetite, and changes of behavior. The aggressive phase may include symptoms of constant growling and barking, erratic behavior, seizures, disorientation, the desire to eat anything including inedible objects, irritability, and restlessness to name a few.  The paralytic phase causes the host to exhibit symptoms of drop jaw, lack of muscle coordination, perception of the host choking, or the incapability to swallow, causing the host to accumulate saliva and foam at the mouth.  "Paralysis then spreads to other parts of the body; the animal becomes depressed, rapidly enters a coma and dies" (, 2011). Rabies is curable up until the host begins to display symptoms.


An article published by the Centers for Control Disease Prevention (CDC) states that "more than 90% of all rabid animals reported to CDC each year occur in wildlife" (2011).  The more common animals to be infected with rabies are skunks, raccoons, bats, and foxes. Even so, the CDC makes mention that most people exposed to rabies have contracted the disease from a domestic animal such as a cat or dog.

To protect yourself and family members from risk of this disease the family pet should receive the rabies vaccination as directed by your veterinarian.  Important, avoid contact with dogs and cats that are unfamiliar to you and your family. Avoid contact with wild animals. "Do not feed or handle them, even if they seem friendly. If you see a wild animal acting strangely, report it to animal control" (CDC, 2011). In the unfortunate situation you or a family member is bitten by an animal, domestic or wild, wash the bite wound immediately with soap and water, and visit your family doctor. Contact animal control to capture the animal.

Disclaimer:  The Pet Post is a media publication and does not provide medical advice or diagnosis pet illnesses for pet owners. Should you have medical questions or concerns pertaining to your pet's health, please consult with your family veterinarian?

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