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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Rabies View In Cats




Condition Overview

Rabies is a fatal disease that occurs in nearly all warm blooded animals, including people, although rarely in rodents. Thanks to vaccinations, rabies in the United States is somewhat rare in dogs and cats. Among wild animals, however, the deadly virus is still very much at large.


Dogs can show either of two forms:

The aggressive or furious form: These dogs will act insane, attack with no warning, eat and chew inedible objects like wood and stones, and eventually become paralyzed and die within 4-7 days.

The "dumb" form: Includes throat paralysis that makes the animal salivate and drool. The dog cannot swallow, so it looks as if something is stuck in their throats and they are choking. Pets with dumb rabies usually become comatose and die in 3-10 days. The dog will become ataxic (the inability to coordinate voluntary muscle movements) and may walk into objects.

In both cases, you may notice extensive drooling due to paralysis of the muscles used for swallowing. Once an animal develops symptoms, rabies is always fatal.


The rabies virus is transmitted through saliva, an infected animal can transmit the disease even if the saliva only touches an open wound or disrupted mucous membrane.

The main source of infection for humans outside the United States continues to be a bite or scratch from an infected dog or cat. Travelers to countries where rabies is endemic should be aware of the risk of dog bites.


In human emergencies, early laboratory confirmation of rabies in an animal is essential so that exposed humans can receive rabies prophylaxis as quickly as possible. The animal must be euthanized and his head sent in a chilled (not frozen) state to a laboratory equipped to diagnose rabies. Rabies is confirmed by finding rabies virus or rabies antigen in the brain or salivary tissues of the suspected animal. If the animal cannot be captured and his rabies status cannot be verified, you need to consult you physician, who may suggest prophylactic vaccinations.


In the United States, vaccination programs for dogs and other domestic animals have been remarkably effective.

Any dog who is bitten by an animal who is not absolutely known to be free of rabies must be assumed to have been exposed to rabies, until proven otherwise. It is extremely important to vigorously cleanse all wounds and scratches, washing them thoroughly with soap and water - WEAR GLOVES for this. Studies in animals have shown that prompt local wound cleansing greatly reduces the risk of rabies. This wound should not be sutured (stitched closed).

Prophylaxis in a previously vaccinated dog consists of a booster shot, which should be given as soon as possible. Vaccination is not effective once the signs of rabies infection appear.

The National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians recommends that if the dog has previously been vaccinated against rabies, revaccinate immediately and observe the dog under leash confinement at home for 45 days. If the dog has not been vaccinated, either euthanize the animal or confine him under strict quarantine without direct handling by humans or contact with other animals for 6 months. Vaccinate the dog 1 month prior to release (5 months after the bite). Different states may have their own specific quarantine and vaccination regulations for dogs who have been exposed to rabies.

For humans: The introduction of inactivated vaccines grown in human diploid cell cultures has improved the effectiveness and safety of post-exposure vaccination for humans. Assuming the human bite victim did not have a pre-exposure rabies immunization, both passive rabies immune globulin and human origin active diploid cell vaccine should be given.


Dogs should be vaccinated against rabies as early as 3-6 months, with a booster shot 1 year later and again every 1 to 3 years dependent upon the vaccine used and the local and state ordinances. Regardless of the dog's age at teh initial vaccination, the second vaccination should be given 1 year later.


Please contact your veterinarian if you have questions about this condition.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Bible

Publisher: BowTie Press, 2005

Website: http://www.bowtiepress.com/bowtie/

Authors: Kristin Meuh-Roe, Jarelle S. Stein

Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

The Doctors Book of Home Remedies for Dogs and Cats

Publisher: Bantam Dell Publishing, 1996

Website: http://www.randomhouse.com/bantamdell/

Authors: Matthew Hoffman, Laura Catalano, Maryanne Dell

The New Encyclopedia of the Dog

Publisher: Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2000

Website: http://www.dk.com/

Author: Bruce Fogle

The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Dogs, Dog Breeds and Dog Care

Publisher: Anness Publishing Limited, 1999

Website: http://www.southwaterbooks.com/

Authors: Dr. Peter Larkin, Mike Stockman

The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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