How Do Dogs Get Rabies?

Dogs get rabies primarily through bites from diseased animals such as foxes, raccoons, skunks and bats. Rabies virus is transmitted in the saliva of an infected animal. When it bites another creature, the virus enters the body where it begins to reproduce.

The virus then travels up the nerves to the brain, leading to inflammation, and eventually, the symptoms of rabies such as unusual behavior, paralysis, and death. It’s important to note that rabies is preventable through vaccination, and dog owners are highly encouraged to vaccinate their dogs to protect them from this deadly disease.

Last Updated on September 20, 2023

Paint a mental picture of your calm dog, waiting for you patiently as you arrive home after a hard day’s work.

You’ve grown accustomed to seeing your pooch at your door step, collected, and with only it’s tail wagging.

After a few months, you start to notice increased aggression every time you went home. You also realized that your dog is excessively salivating, with a frothy, white substance seen at the corners of their mouth.

Chances are, your dog has the rabies virus.

Now, I can almost hear you thinking, how can rabies in dogs be possible? Do dogs show symptoms of rabies the same way humans do? What do I do if I have an infected animal in my home? What can I use as treatment for rabies? What can I resort on for rabies prevention?

Luckily for all of us, in this feature, we’re going to tackle one of the most feared incidents pet parents can imagine: rabies.

dog on leash parade

What is rabies?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rabies is a preventable viral disease most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. It is known that the rabies virus infects the central nervous system of mammals, eventually causing disease in the brain and even death.The vast majority reported each year to CDC occur in wild animals, such as rabid bats, raccoons, skunks, un-vaccinated dogs, and foxes. However, it helps to know that any mammal can get rabies.

The said disease is also a virus that is usually spread through the scratch of an animal. Unfortunately though, by the time the symptoms appear, it is generally too late to save the patient. Without any sort of early treatment, it is usually fatal.

What are the symptoms of rabies?

Rabies in dogs symptoms can be seen and felt differently amongst pooches.

They vary based on the individual dog’s or any domestic animal’s response to the virus, as it gathers strength and takes control of the dog’s brain. When the said symptoms appear, they will often be indicated, through a dog’s rapid and extreme change in demeanor, the form of rabies that a dog has contracted.

A dog that has become infected may exhibit extreme behavioral changes, such as restlessness, or apprehension, both of which may be compounded by aggression. Your pooch may also bite or snap at any sort or form of stimulus.

Other signs of animal rabies in pets are difficulty swallowing, uncoordinated walking, lethargy, weakness, behavioral changes, seizures, fever, vomiting, excessive salivating, foaming at the mouth, and lack of appetite.

In most extreme cases, the infected animal may become hypersensitive to touch, light, and sound. Others may even eat unusual things or hide in dark places. As the virus progresses, throat and jaw muscle paralysis is more than likely to follow.

Additionally, un-coordination, disorientation, and staggering is more than likely to occur, caused by paralysis of the hind legs.

The incubation period of the virus usually lasts for two to eight weeks before some of the signs get noticed. As for the transmission of the virus, it can happen as early as ten days before the symptoms appear.

Another prominent symptom that is known to reflect rabies exposure is “hydrophobia”, or a dog’s aversion to water.

There are also clinical signs that you need to be aware of, and there are two recognized forms of the said clinical disease: furious rabies and dumb rabies.

These two forms of rabies may vary in one way or another.

For furious rabies, a rabid dog becomes aggressive, highly excitable, and often showcases signs of a depraved appetite. Eventually, paralysis sets in, and your dog may not be able to eat or drink.

Another form of rabies is the dumb rabies, and it is the most common form in dogs, which involves progressive paralysis in the limbs, distortion of the face, and the obvious giveaway of difficulty in swallowing.

How can my dog get it?

For our four-legged friends and domestic pets, the rabies infection can be transmitted in saliva of an infected host. A bite is technically not necessary for transferring, since infected saliva can enter the bloodstream through any open wound. The risk also runs highest if your dog, or any pet, is exposed to any wild animal. Needless to say, rabies exposure can be quite deadly, if you as a pet parent, do not keep an eye of your pooch’s surroundings.It’s also best to keep a watchful eye during the incubation period.

It is known that the mature rabies virus does not get picky with its host, as it’s primary objective is to replicate.

Ironically though, in the United States, rabies is reported in cats more than in any domestic species. This simply indicates that dogs are not only the ones you should be on the look out for.

What to do if my dog gets infected?

Since the rabies symptoms might take time before you notice it, it’s always best to have your dog vaccinated beforehand.

Now, a lot of misconceptions from pet owners state that rabies vaccine should only be used once infected.


The said rabies vaccine should be one of your utmost priorities as a pet parent. Not only does it protect your pet from the harmful and lethal effects of rabies exposure, it also enables you to have the assurance that the virus won’t affect your pooch should the unfortunate instance arise.

If your pet has been bitten by another animal infected with rabies, he needs to be taken to the veterinarian immediately.

It’s always a good option to invest in a carrier or cage for transport, as this method lessens the chances of exposing yourself to the virus.Another useful tip is to disinfect or clean your house in which your pet may have infected the said area, whether it be saliva or wounds in their bodies.

Since there is no known treatment and cure for rabies, the best possible option you can do is to have your dog kept in isolation, and prevent it from escaping or potentially harming someone. Dog owners should always be responsible for their furry friends.

However, it’s important to know that an un-vaccinated dog will not survive, while as a vaccinated dog has a chance of fighting through it.

The Final Verdict

The concept of having your dog injected with a rabies vaccine beforehand is never a bad idea. As discussed on the topic mentioned above, we all know by now that the casualties of an un-vaccinated pet can prove to be lethal, and regardless of what animal control program you enroll your pet into, the chances of infection will always remain high.

As a best practice, it’s always the best idea to bring your pooch to a licensed professional during the earliest signs of rabies. Rabies shots and treatments are always readily available should your dog need it, but as always, prevention is better than cure.

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