Rabies is a viral disease that is transmitted from wild animals to
unvaccinated livestock or pets, and to humans as well. Caused by the
rabies virus that is present in the saliva of rabid animals, it can be
transmitted through infected secretion, like a bite. Once the infection
takes place, the virus will then spread to the central nervous system
and will cause inflammation in the brain. If not treated, rabies is
fatal most of the time.
However, effective pet vaccinations and pet control techniques coupled
with effective post-exposure treatments for humans have nearly
eliminated this dreaded disease in dogs in the US. In those countries
where post-exposure treatments and vaccinations are not freely
available, rabies is still a very serious health threat to animals as
well as humans. Killing more than 35,000 people each year in Africa,
Asia and Latin America, rabies is indeed a killer disease.
Once the infection takes place, the virus will start to grow in the
muscle tissues and can even go undetected for days on end, and even
months. This is the latent period or the incubation period. During this
period, the animal will appear to be healthy and will initially show no
sign of being infected. Within the first 3 months, the virus will start
migrating towards all the nerves near the infection site and from there
will spread to the brain and spinal cord.
It takes anywhere from 12 to 180 days to fully spread through the
peripheral nerves and move towards the central nervous system. During
this point, the disease will progress at a faster pace and the animal
will now begin to show signs of being rabid. The virus spread to the
saliva, urine, tears and even breast milk. In most cases, the animal
will die within 4 to 5 days.
The symptoms for rabies are very typical. The infection however
progresses in a very unpredictable manner, going from an initial
prodormal phase to the furious or excitative middle stages to the final
The first few signs of rabies is always a drastic change in behavior of
the animal. However, pet owners should know that behavioral changes
could also occur due to many other conditions like poisoning or
Animals infected with the virus will usually stop drinking and eating
and at first might want to be left alone. Once the initial symptoms take
place, the animal will then become vicious or might straight away show
signs of paralysis. Some animals bite for no reason or at the slightest
provocation while others may seem to be indifferent or difficult to
arouse. Once the animal reaches the paralytic stage, the disease will
progress at a very rapid pace and the animal will usually die.
The Prodormal Phase
The first few symptoms of rabies are very subtle and last anywhere from 2 to 3 days. Here are the symptoms in the first stage:
The barking tone of the infected dog (or animals) will change.
The animal will keep chewing at the bitten area.
Drastic loss of appetite.
The Furious Phase or ‘Mad Dog Syndrome’
The second phase lasts anywhere from 2 to 4 days and not all infected
animals experience this. A rabid dog may attack any moving thing,
whether it is a person or animal. A caged rabid dog will breath their
teeth by chewing on the wire, or try to bite a hand or leg moving in
front of the cage. Rabid cats will suddenly attack by scratching and
biting. Foxes invade yards and attack cows, dogs and even porcupines.
Here are the classic symptoms of mad dog syndrome:
Uncontrollable urge to eat anything, whether it is edible or not.
Constant barking and growling.
Always hyper alert or anxious.
No fear of enemies.
Muscle in coordination and trembling.
This is the final phase of the infection and lasts for 2 or maybe 4 days. The symptoms include:
Animal appears to be choking.
Lower jaw is constantly hanging.
Animal cannot swallow; this leads to drooling and foaming at the mouth.
Paralysis of throat, jaw and the chewing muscles.
The paralysis will then spread to all the other parts of the body
and the animal will eventually become depressed and will enter into a
comatose stage. Death will quickly follow.
Rabies still remains a very serious health hazard and problem amongst
domestic animals in many parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Vampire bats and mongooses are common carriers of the virus in these
There are many rabies-free countries, where the disease has either been
eradicated or never been recorded. In the US, rabies is a rare disease,
but is probably under diagnosed in humans. It is however believed that
most rabies cases in humans occur due to dog bites or bat bites. Rabies
in humans is most prevalent in the Asian continent, especially in India.
Vaccines for humans are also available to prevent possible infection of
rabies. In case if you are one who is at greater risk of getting bite
from an infected animal, its better for you to get vaccinated first.