If you, like every other dog lover on earth, are still processing the trauma of watching Old Yeller, you’ll know that as a dog parent, the R-word can cause panic.
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What’s the r-word, you say? Rabies.
While that tragic movie was made in the late 1950s, the realities of this devastating disease are still as fundamental as ever.
So, in the interest of arming you with information, let’s look at what rabies is, how dogs get rabies, symptoms to look out for, and what you can do to protect your precious pup.
What is rabies? How do dogs get rabies?
Rabies is a viral disease affecting all mammals. This means it’s zoonotic and can also be transmitted to humans. Almost all dogs that contract rabies will die. By the time the symptoms show, the disease will have progressed too far, and death is virtually inevitable.
The rabies virus in dogs is usually contracted from another animal. Because vaccines are common in most countries, the animal that spreads the disease is unlikely to be another dog. Most cases are contracted from skunks, bats, and weasels. The infected animal (the reservoir) bites the dog, and the saliva carries the virus into the body.
From here, the rabies virus enters the peripheral nervous system and begins to reproduce. The disease will spread until it reaches the salivary glands, where it can be quickly passed on to the next potential reservoir for the virus.
The virus must pass directly from one mammal to another and cannot survive for long outside a living host.
How can you tell if your dog has rabies?
As mentioned, by the time you spot the symptoms, chances are excellent that the disease has progressed to a dire state. The initial symptoms come on gradually and stealthily, including fever and decreased energy, and appetite.
After the first four days, symptoms usually progress quickly, including difficulty breathing, excessive salivation resulting from difficulty swallowing, seizures, weakness, lameness, and breathing issues.
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Rabies has two distinct forms: furious and paralytic, and affected dogs can have either or both. In the case of furious rabies, dogs can become aggressive and unpredictable. Hallucinations are also possible. Violent seizures precede death.
Read more: Different Dog Behaviors And What They Mean.
Conversely, paralytic rabies (dumb rabies) is the typical picture of rabies. Muscular paralysis can sometimes affect the face resulting in strange facial expressions and inhibiting swallowing, leading to drooling and foaming at the mouth. The illness progresses to a coma, followed by death.
Diagnosing and treating rabies in dogs
Diagnosing rabies in a living animal is not a simple thing. The only conclusive way to diagnose rabies is to test brain tissue from the dog after it has died.
So, vets are left to carefully observe the symptoms and correctly interpret the signs that may indicate a rabies infection.
Rabies is almost always fatal. As such, there are no treatments or ways to manage the disease once symptoms have become noticeable. The closest thing to cure is isolating the dog so that it cannot spread the virus and, once the disease takes hold, administering humane euthanasia before the symptoms become too devastating.
How to prevent rabies in dogs
This all sounds pretty doom-and-gloom. But the good news is that rabies is entirely preventable. In many countries and most states in the US, you’re required by law to vaccinate your pets against rabies. Your dog can be protected from contracting rabies with a regular vaccine schedule.
Read more: Pet Vaccinations Guide For Cats & Dogs.
The first rabies vaccine can be administered to puppies between 12 and 16 weeks old, and after that, boosters are given at regular intervals – usually every year or every three years.
These vaccines are entirely safe for your dog and very effective in minimizing exposure to the rabies virus. But even when your pet is vaccinated against rabies, it’s a good idea to reduce any risk of exposure.
According to vet research, rabies is a public health issue, and laws are in place to prevent the spread of this disease. Vaccinations are often required by law, and rabies cases must be reported to the relevant authorities. If your dog is exposed, it will likely be necessary to quarantine and possibly euthanize them.
Contact with rabies can still occur in everyday likeepingto keep your pet safe by minimizing contact with w is essential wildlife. This extends to live animals and dead ones your dog may encounter on their walks.
If you suspect your dog has been exposed to rabies, don’t delay getting to the vet. The sooner, the better.
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How often do dogs need rabies shots?
The recommended rabies vaccine schedule for dogs can vary from state to state in the US and in different countries worldwide. This timing depends on the approved vaccine for your region and can be anything from every year to every three years.
When do puppies get rabies shots? The first rabies vaccine for puppies is given between 12 and 16 weeks of age, and the second follows a year later. After that, you will be required to vaccinate your dog against rabies according to the laws in your region.
Can you get rabies from a dog that has been vaccinated?
It’s not likely to get rabies from a vaccinated dog, but there is still a tiny chance.
If you are bitten by a dog that has been fully vaccinated, you don’t need to get treated for rabies. If you’re unsure if the dog that bit you is vaccinated, you’ll need to visit your doctor.
You’ll likely get post-exposure prevention, which includes several vaccinations and treatments for up to two weeks after the bite.
Can a vaccinated dog get rabies?
It’s doubtful that a vaccinated dog will contract rabies. In a tiny percentage of cases, it’s believed that some dogs don’t develop the required minimum levels of antibodies to keep the virus at bay. Antibody levels can be measured with a titer test one month after vaccination.
Inadequate antibody levels can occur in older dogs or dogs with a weakened immune response. Typically, a booster dose of the vaccine can resolve this.
When do puppies get their rabies shot?
The first rabies vaccine for puppies is given at three months or before the puppy is four months old.
How much is a rabies shot for a dog?
If you’ve ever wondered how much rabies shots for dogs cost, you’re not alone. Rabies vaccines for dogs cost around $25, but the price can vary from location to location. It’s unlikely it will cost more than $30.
Why is my dog acting weird after rabies vaccination?
Vaccines work by stimulating the immune system, so they can cause your dog to act funny after the vaccine. Usually, vaccine reactions in dogs include a mild fever and some sleepiness, so if your dog is acting weird after his rabies shot, it’s not usually anything to worry about. A lump on your dog after a rabies shot is also expected at the injection site.
Rabies vaccine reactions in dogs can sometimes cause adverse reactions, including soreness, swelling, hives, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.
Is there such a thing as a dog’s allergic reaction to the rabies vaccine?
Vaccines stimulate the immune system, but sometimes, very rarely, the immune system has a compassionate response to the vaccine. The symptoms of an allergic reaction to the rabies vaccine can range from skin rash and hives to facial swelling and difficulty breathing.
If you suspect your dog is allergic to the rabies vaccine, you must get them to the vet immediately for emergency treatment.