Behavior and Training, Diseases, Pet Care Basics, Shelter and Rescue Resources, Vaccines

Rabies in Dogs and Cats

How do you know if a dog has rabies? Can cats get rabies? Rabies is a severe and deadly virus that attacks the nervous system. The virus, which is secreted in saliva, is usually spread when an infected animal bites a person or animal. Most cases of Rabies occur in wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats. By the time the symptoms of Rabies start appearing, the result is almost always fatal.

Symptoms of Rabies in Dogs and Cats

The rabies virus can take up to a month to develop. After the virus enters the body, it begins traveling along the nerves to the brain. Symptoms that may occur include aggression, excessive salivation or drooling, abnormal affection, staggering, seizures, and fearfulness. Rabid animals may act strangely; for example, nocturnal animals may be seen walking around during the day.

The virus can appear in two different forms, referred to as “furious” or “paralytic” (sometimes referred to as “dumb”). The “furious” form often results in extreme behavior changes and aggression. The “paralytic” form is characterized by loss of coordination and weakness.

Does My Dog Have Rabies

If you think that your pet had contact with a rabid animal, you should immediately contact animal control or your veterinarian. It is difficult to diagnose Rabies by behavior and observation alone because the symptoms are similar to other diseases. The test that is often used to diagnose Rabies is completed by studying the brain after the animal has died.

Treatment for Rabies in Dogs and Cats

There is no cure for Rabies, and the outcome is almost always fatal. If your dog or cat is bitten by a rabid animal and has a current vaccination, he may need to be revaccinated and quarantined. If your pet hasn’t been vaccinated, he may need to be euthanized or placed in isolation where it can be observed without harming anyone.

If you are bitten by a possibly rabid animal, you should immediately call your physician and follow your doctor’s advice. If you seek immediate and appropriate treatment, you may be able to stop the infection before the disease develops.

To reduce the chance of spreading the virus, you should disinfect any area that the infected animal might have come into contact with. Be careful not to come into contact with the saliva.

How to Prevent Rabies in Dogs and Cats

Rabies vaccination is an important part of prevention. The Rabies vaccine is a core vaccine recommended for all dogs and cats, regardless of breed, size or location. Because this is a core vaccine, it is required by law. The required frequency of the vaccination varies from state to state, so you should check with your veterinarian on your state’s regulations.

Other ways to prevent Rabies is to not let your pets roam outside where they may come into contact with a rabid, wild animal. Dispose of garbage appropriately so you don’t attract wild animals looking for a meal, and be wary of any wild animals.

Should you find a wild or domestic animal your pet has been exposed to or has unusual behavior, avoid contacting the animal or its body fluids. If you or your pet has been exposed to this animal, carefully retain it, do not damage the animal or freeze the body, and arrange for the animal to be submitted to your state rabies diagnostic laboratory for testing for rabies. Your physician or medical care professional can aid you in submission and interpretation of results as well as interventions as indicated by the test results.

If you need help with how to protect a dog or cat from rabies, call us at 800.786.4751.

Article originally written by Donald Bramlage, DVM, Revival’s Former Director of Veterinary Services. This article has been updated/reviewed by Dr. Greer.

Written by: Marty Greer, DVM

Director of Veterinary Services

Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.