The Rabies Virus: What You Need to Know About the Rabies Vaccine and More

The rabies virus is serious stuff and definitely not something to be trifled with. Luckily, preventative measures are highly effective. Here’s everything you need to know about the virus!

What Is the Rabies Virus?

Rabies is a virus that affects the central nervous system, or CNS, and the grey matter of an animal’s brain. The most common way the rabies virus spreads is through a bite from a disease carrier. It can also spread through scratches, open wounds or mucous membranes, although these transmission methods are far less common. The most common carriers are not domesticated animals, but wild animals, such as skunks, bats, raccoons and foxes.

Once the virus enters an animal’s body, it reproduces in muscle cells and moves into the closest nerve fibers. The virus might take one to three months to fully develop in a dog or cat. However once symptoms begin, the virus moves fast. And yes, unfortunately this disease is zoonotic, meaning it can also spread to humans.

The Rabies Vaccine Is the Best Rabies Prevention

Since this disease can infect humans and pets, it’s absolutely crucial that everyone in your family stays up to date with their rabies vaccine! Visit your primary care physician to get your rabies vaccine. As for your pets, go see their vet or come to one of our low-cost vaccination clinics! You can also read more about vaccines in general here.

In fact, the rabies vaccine is required for pets in almost all local municipalities. It must be kept current — your pet will receive either a one- or three-year shot. The vaccine is also mandatory to obtain most city licenses.

Other ways to prevent rabies are to keep your pets away from wild animals and other dogs and cats that are not up to date on their vaccines. This is why we require dogs at our daycare to be fully vaccinated. And always steer clear of animals that are behaving strangely. This can include aggressive animals or nocturnal animals being up and about during the day.

Rabies Symptoms and Signs

Sometimes pets don’t exhibit any major rabies symptoms, so it’s super important that you take your dog or cat to the vet immediately if they are bitten by another animal. The first few days of a rabies infection is called the prodomal stage. During this stage, dogs and cats will only show mild changes. Then animals will transition into the furious stage, paralytic stage, some combination of those two stages or even neither stage. Again, since the disease progresses differently in different animals, and you may not be able to detect it right away. This is why you absolutely must take your pet to the vet if they are bitten or scratched by another animal!

The furious stage of rabies is defined by extreme behavior changes, including aggression and attacking. Paralytic rabies, also sometimes called dumb rabies, is very different. Animals with paralytic rabies might experience loss of coordination, weakness or paralysis.

Here are some other rabies symptoms:

  • Changes in attitude and behavior, such as irritability
  • Paralysis in the mandible (jaw) and larynx (voice box)
  • Frothy saliva or excessive salivation
  • Unusual aggression or shyness
  • A different tone in their bark or meow
  • Inability to swallow
  • Drooping of the jaw
  • Excessive excitability
  • Hydrophobia (fear of water)
  • Seizures
  • Pica (an appetite for things that aren’t food)
  • Fever

Rabies Treatment

Please, please, pleeeeeeease take your pet to your veterinarian as soon as your animal has been bit or you suspect they have rabies. Immediate treatment is the best way to improve your pet’s prognosis. If you feel you cannot safely contain your animal in a crate, call animal control. They are specially trained for this scenario.

Once your pet is at the vet, your pet will be quarantined and tested for the rabies virus. If your pet receives an official diagnosis, you or your vet must notify the local health department. Make sure you then scrub down your home with a 1:32 dilution of bleach. This can be accomplished by mixing four ounces of bleach with a gallon of water to inactivate the rabies virus. Detergent, soap or vinegar will also do the job since the virus is fragile and doesn’t live long on most surfaces. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful!