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What Every Dog Owner Needs to Know About Rabies

Rabies, or hydrophobia, also known as acute viral encephalomyelitis is a fatal disease that can affect all warm-blooded mammals, both human and animal alike. Canine rabies is a zoonotic concern because of the close relationship humans have with their dogs. The disease is spread via infected body fluids, especially blood and saliva, which usually occurs from bites as well as other open wounds. Vaccination against rabies is required by law in some countries.

The Symptoms of Rabies in Dogs

After the virus enters the dog’s body, it travels to the spinal cord through the nerves, until it reaches the brain. The virus then multiplies very quickly and eventually enters the dog’s salivary glands. Rabid dogs first go through an angry phase, where they become excited, bad-tempered, and extremely aggressive. Then they go onto what is known as the “dumb” phase, where they become depressed, have no coordination, drool, and have difficulty swallowing.

Early signs of rabies are fever, nervousness or agitation, and hiding away. Aggression shows up later on with the dog becoming more agitated and behaving erratically. When a dog is in the final stages of rabies, his muscles weaken until he is unable to walk or stand at all. The dog then falls into a coma and dies.

Rabies symptoms normally show up between 3 weeks and 5 months after the dog has been bitten by an infected animal, but there are times when they show up sooner than three weeks or even later than five months.

Treatment for Rabies in Dogs

Rabies is a fatal disease for which there is no treatment. Dogs which have been exposed to the virus should be euthanized immediately. Owners do have the option to keep their pet in isolation for six months however, to make sure as to whether or not their dog was in fact infected. Rabies is preventable through vaccination once a year, or once every three years.

Apart from vaccinations, other preventative measures include keeping your dog away from wild animals, making sure that all other dogs and cats that your pet comes into contact with, have been vaccinated, and also minimizing contact you or your dog has with strays in the area.

Prognosis for Dogs with Rabies

Unfortunately, while it's very rare in Canada, if your dog has rabies, the prognosis is not good. Rabies is an extremely serious, dangerous disease, and people who notice any major behavioral changes in their dog should take them to a vet as soon as possible. Animals infected with rabies normally die within ten days after the symptoms appear.

When a dog is suspected of dying from rabies, local public health authorities and veterinarians are charged with diagnosing the disease by doing postmortem laboratory testing on the animal’s brain tissue.

Areas and Breeds Affected By Rabies

Rabies can affect all dogs in any part of the world, but it is more common in developing countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Dogs are the main carriers of the disease in these countries, with thousands and thousands of people dying annually from rabies. Anyone traveling to these countries should speak to their doctor about exposure to the disease, and what they should do in the event that they are exposed to a diseased animal.

The best thing you can do to protect your dog from rabies is to have them vaccinated according to the recommended vaccination schedule.

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