Dogs and Rabies
Dogs and Rabies
Even the word “rabies” is enough to evoke fear in everyone. A deadly virus that affects the brain and spinal cord of any pet or person who contracts it, rabies, according to statistics, accounts for the annual deaths of over 50,000 people and millions of animals worldwide.
Since animals with rabies secrete large amounts of the virus in their saliva, this fatal disease is primarily passed onto a dog through a bite from an infected animal. It can also be transmitted by way of a scratch or when the virus-laden saliva comes into contact with either mucous membranes or a fresh, open wound. Those dogs most at risk for contracting rabies are unvaccinated ones, allowed to roam freely outdoors, not only exposing them to wild animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes but to fighting with infected stray cats and other dogs.
The virus typically incubates from between two and eight weeks before an infected dog exhibits any signs of the disease. Transmission of the virus through his saliva, however, can occur as early as ten days before his symptoms appear.
Initially, an infected dog may show extreme behavioral changes such as restlessness or apprehension often compounded by aggression. Whereas usually friendly dogs may become irritable, normally excitable ones may become more docile. Any form of stimulus may cause him to snap at or bite, attack other animals, people, and, yes, even objects. He may continually lick, chew at and/or bite the site where he was bitten, and, at his point, he may also be running a fever.
As the virus progresses, he may become hypersensitive to sound, light and touch, either eat unusual things or lose his appetite completely, and hide away in dark places. These frightening signs are usually followed by the paralysis of his jaw and throat muscles, resulting in that all-too-familiar symptom of foaming at the mouth. Paralysis of his hind legs may cause him to stagger, become disoriented and uncoordinated, and suffer seizures. The ultimate sign of rabies: sudden death.
There’s no accurate test to diagnose rabies in a living dog (the most accurate one which requires a sample of brain tissue can only be performed after death) and no treatment or cure once symptoms of the disease appear. And because rabies presents such a serious threat to public health, dogs suspected of having the virus are usually euthanized.
Vaccinating your own dog is the only way to protect him from contracting rabies and the sole way of safeguarding him should he bite another animal or a person. In many areas nationwide, it’s mandatory that all domestic dogs and cats be vaccinated after the age of three months, then vaccinated every one to three years depending on the type of vaccine used. Dogs who have bitten people are required to be confined for at least 10 days to see if rabies develops, and if their vaccination records aren’t current, a long quarantine or even euthanasia may be mandated.
In short, vaccinate your dog, supervise him when he’s outside, and keep him away from all forms of wildlife capable of spreading the disease. Rabies is 100% preventable.
Article by Nomi Berger. Nomi is the bestselling author of seven novels, one work of non-fiction, two volumes of poetry, and hundreds of articles. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada with her adopted Maltese, Mini, and has been writing as a volunteer for animal rescue groups in Canada and the U.S.A. since 2013.