If you’re like most pet owners, you would do anything to keep your dog safe from illness or injury. The rabies vaccine offers a simple yet effective way to protect your pet from developing the deadly rabies virus. Understanding how the disease is transmitted and following a few prevention pointers can help you reduce your dog’s rabies risk.
What Is Rabies?
Rabies is an infectious disease that is usually transmitted through direct contact with an infected animal’s saliva. Although most animals develop rabies after a bite, it can also develop if the saliva enters a cut or break in your pet’s skin or comes in contact with mucous membranes. The virus affects the central nervous system and causes behavioral changes before it eventually kills its host. The disease is almost 100 percent fatal for both animals and people.
Which Animals Are Responsible for the Spread of Rabies?
Although many warm-blooded mammals can carry the rabies virus, it’s most common in:
Squirrels, rabbits, opossums, rats, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils and hamsters usually don’t carry the virus and haven’t been linked to any cases of rabies in the U.S.
You can see which animals tend to be infected with rabies in our area by taking a look at maps provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Rabies in Dogs?
Symptoms don’t begin immediately after a dog is bitten by a rabid animal and generally occur three to eight weeks later. If the virus enters your pet’s body close to the brain, symptoms may appear sooner. By the time symptoms develop, it’s usually too late to save your pet. Signs of rabies include:
- Behavioral changes (becoming uncharacteristically aggressive or docile)
- Trouble swallowing
- Reluctance to drink water
- Eating dirt or other non-food substances
- Coordination difficulties
- Excess saliva
- Paralysis of the throat and jaw muscles
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Loss of appetite
- Irritability or excitability
- A change in the sound of the dog’s bark
How Can I Prevent My Dog from Catching Rabies?
Since rabies can’t be cured, prevention is particularly important. These tips will help you keep your pet safe:
- Make Rabies Vaccinations a Priority: The rabies vaccine protects your pet from developing the virus if exposed to the saliva or brain tissue of an infected animal. It’s important to follow the recommended vaccination schedule to ensure that your pet is constantly protected. Most dogs should be vaccinated every three years. Puppies receive their first vaccinations at three months and then receive another vaccination one year later. Let your pet’s veterinarian know if you have any questions or concerns about the rabies vaccine or the recommended schedule.
- Treat Bites Immediately: Take your pet to the veterinarian if they’re bitten by a wild animal or even comes in contact with the animal, even if you don’t see any bite marks. Since the virus can enter the body through tiny breaks in the skin, your dog can still develop rabies without being bitten. The veterinarian can give your pet a rabies booster shot for added protection. If your dog was bitten by another dog or cat, ask the owner for proof that the animal has been vaccinated.
- Keep Your Pet Away from Wild Animals: Contact with wild animals, whether alive or dead, can increase your dog’s risk of developing rabies. Prevent your dog from chasing wild animals or investigating injured or dead wildlife. Practicing the “come” and “leave it” dog training commands can help you ensure that your dog will respond when you spot the potential for trouble.
- Don’t Invite Wild Animals into Your Yard: Although wild animals are hunters, they don’t mind snacking on dog and cat food if it’s left outside. Keep animals away from your yard by feeding your pets indoors and making sure that your trash cans have raccoon-proof lids.
How long has it been since your dog’s last rabies vaccine? Whether it’s time for your pet’s next shot or you need to vaccinate a puppy for the first time, we can help you keep your furry friend safe. Contact us to schedule an appointment.