Canine Rabies is a severe, and often fatal, viral polioencephalitis that specifically affects the gray matter of the dog’s brain and its central nervous system (CNS). The primary way the rabies virus is transmitted to dogs in the United States is through a bite from a disease carrier: foxes, raccoons, skunks, and bats. Infectious virus particles are retained in a rabid animal’s salivary glands to better disseminate the virus through their saliva.
Once the virus enters the dog’s body, it replicates in the cells of the muscles, and then spreads to the closest nerve fibers, including all peripheral, sensory and motor nerves, traveling from there to the CNS via fluid within the nerves. The virus can take up to a month to develop, but once the symptoms have begun, the virus progresses rapidly. This inflammatory infection also has zoonotic characteristics and can therefore be transmitted to humans.
Symptoms and Types
There are two forms of rabies: paralytic and furious. In the early symptom (prodomal) stage of rabies infection, only mild signs of CNS abnormalities will show in the dog. This stage usually lasts between one and three days. Most dogs will then progress into either the furious stage or the paralytic stage, or a combination of the two. Others will succumb to the infection without displaying any major symptoms.
Furious rabies is portrayed by extreme behavioral changes, including overt aggression and attack behavior. Also known as dumb rabies, paralytic rabies is characterized by weakness and loss of coordination, followed by paralysis.
Rabies is a fast-moving virus. If it is not treated soon after the symptoms have begun, the prognosis is poor. Therefore, if your dog has been in a fight with another animal, or has been bitten or scratched by another animal, or if you have any reason to believe that your pet has come into contact with a rabid animal (even if your dog has been vaccinated against the virus), take your dog to a veterinarian for preventive care immediately.
Symptoms to watch for in your dog include:
- Jaw is dropped
- Inability to swallow
- Change in tone of bark
- Muscular lack of coordination
- Unusual shyness or aggression
- Excessive excitability
- Constant irritability/changes in attitude and behavior
- Paralysis in the mandible and larynx
- Excessive salivation (hypersalvation), or frothy saliva
The rabies virus is a single-stranded RNA virus of the genus Lyssavirus, in the family Rhabdoviridae. Transmission occurs through the exchange of blood or saliva from infected animal, and very rarely through breathing in the escaping gases from decomposing animal carcasses. Contracting the virus in this way is very rare, but can occur, often in caves with large populations of bats, where the virus is widespread. This may be a concern for hunting dogs.
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