Dog Rabies Symptoms

Kelly Roper
Reviewed by Vet Clare Deming
Sick dog

Just the mention of rabies can strike fear in the hearts of strong men, mainly because rabies symptoms can be so horrific and the disease can occur in both humans and animals. Let's take a closer look at what rabies is and how to recognize the disease when it appears.

About Rabies

Rabies is a viral infection that affects a dog's nervous system, eventually spreading to the animal's brain, causing inflammation, paralysis, and finally death.

Many creatures are susceptible to the rabies virus, including dogs, cats and human beings, but the disease is most commonly transferred by saliva from wild animals to family pets through a bite. The disease then settles in the muscle tissue where the virus grows undetected for up to ninety days until it begins to migrate to the nervous system, and it is at this time that the first outward symptoms of the disease begin to show.

The Three Progressive Stages of Rabies Symptoms

Rabies symptoms range from the subtle to the extreme. The disease can be broken down into three phases as it progresses.

The Prodromal Phase

During this early phase, which lasts just a few days, the disease produces very subtle changes that may be easy to miss, including:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Intermittent fever
  • Slight changes in behavior such as irritability or the desire to be left alone

The "Mad Dog" Phase

This later phase, which typically lasts less than a week, is the most frightening one because it is then that the classic violent symptoms of the disease are most likely to occur, although it should be noted that not every animal stricken with rabies appears to pass through the mad dog phase. Some humans and animals skip these rabies symptoms completely and move straight to phase three, the paralytic stage.

Rabies symptoms for the mad dog phase may include:

  • Lack of coordination, irregular muscle movements, and/or seizures
  • Aggressive behavior toward objects and other creatures
  • Restlessness and roaming aimlessly from one location to the next without a discernible purpose
  • Disorientation and lack of recognition for familiar people and places
  • Lack of fear toward natural predators

The Paralytic Phase

In this final and fatal stage of the disease, affected humans and animals display the following symptoms.

  • Foaming at the mouth. This symptom is caused by the growing paralysis of the throat and jaw muscles, which makes it very difficult to swallow saliva. Consequently, most animals will also refuse food and water completely at this stage.
  • Slack jawed appearance, which can also be attributed to progressing paralysis.
  • Full bodily paralysis that results in death.

It should be noted that the virus can remain active inside a dead animal for forty-eight hours, and the creature's blood and other bodily fluids can transmit the virus if it comes into contact with fresh open wounds or mucus membranes. Great care should be used when handling an animal that dies of rabies.

Prevention

Rabies can be fatal, but it is preventable with the appropriate vaccinations. If you suspect your pet or someone you know may have been exposed to a possible rabies infection, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian or physician at the earliest opportunity.

Dog Rabies Symptoms