Canine Rabies - Rabies in Dogs

Signs and symptoms of rabies in dogs.

Rabies virus infection usually produces fatal encephalomyelitis in dogs and cats
. The source of rabies infection is generally considered to be the bite of an infected animal that has rabies virus in the saliva. Bats, racoons, skunks, and foxes most commonly serve as the source of rabies exposure.

Rabies in dogs and cats can have a wide range of clinical signs, making it difficult to differentiate from other acute, progressive encephalomyelitis syndromes. Because of its public health significance, rabies should be on the list of differential diagnoses considered in every animal with rapidly progressing neurologic dysfunction.

In naturally occurring rabies in dogs and cats, the initial signs may include behavior changes of depression, dementia, or aggression. Excessive salivation, difficulty swallowing, and multiple cranial nerve deficits are usually seen, suggesting brainstem disease. Ataxia and rear limb paresis progressing to flaccid quadriparesis are common. There may be a history of contact with a known rabid animal. Animals may shed rabies virus in the saliva for up to 14 days before the onset of clinical signs. The incubation period from the time of the bite to the onset of clinical signs is extremely variable (1 week to 8 months). However, once neurologic signs are seen, the disease is rapidly progressive, with death occurring within 7 days in most animals.

Any unvaccinated animal with an acute, rapidly progressive course of neurologic disease should be considered a rabies suspect and handled with caution. There is no feature specific to rabies in dogs and cats. Dogs and cats should receive their first rabies vaccine after 12 weeks of age and then again 1 year later. Subsequent boosters are administered every 1 to 3 years, depending on the vaccine used and local public health regulations. Rarely, soft-tissue sarcomas have developed in cats at the site of rabies virus prophylactic inoculation.

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