Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The virus is relatively unstable in the environment therefore requiring direct contact for transmission. Only mammals are susceptible to infection, and wildlife, such as skunk, bat, raccoon, fox, and coyotes, are the primary animal group where infection occurs.
There are 4 stages of infection:
- Incubation Stage: After the virus has entered the body through a bite wound and attached to the local muscles it eventually adheres to the associated nerves and begins its ascent to the brain.
While it may take a long time for the virus to incubate,
once even mild symptoms begin, death occurs within 10 days.
- Prodromal Stage (the first 1.5 days after symptoms have started)
A change in personality is noted, friendly animals become shy, the larynx begins to spasm and a voice change may be noted (especially true in rabid cattle).
- Excitative Stage (Next 2-3 days)
Classically, this would be the “mad dog” stage. The animal has no fear and suffers from hallucinations and if confined, the animal often attacks the bars of the cage.
- Paralytic or Dumb Stage (Next 2 days)
Weakness/paralysis sets begin to set in. The larynx is paralyzed resulting in an inability to swallow, thus drooling and “foaming at the mouth” result. The animal dies when the intercostal muscles (which control breathing) are paralyzed.
There is no treatment for animals or humans once clinical signs appear.
Fortunately, Rabies is a preventable disease in our dogs and cats. In dogs, a primary rabies vaccine is given at 12-16 weeks of age under the skin in the right hind leg. This is followed by a “booster” vaccine within 10-12 months with the same vaccine, Imbrab 3. At this point, the dog can now be vaccinated every 3 years for rabies for most dogs and every other year for at risk dogs (i.e. hunting dogs). Cats are also given a primary rabies vaccine at 12-16 weeks of age. Cats are different however in that they require a rabies vaccine on an annual basis.
If you have reason to believe that a dog and/or cat has been exposed to rabies, it is crucial that you contact your local veterinarian. Ideally, the biting animal would be available for testing or at least quarantined. The only test available to confirm rabies infection is to send the brain into a designated lab for testing. It is very unlikely that a vaccinated animal would be susceptible to the virus.
If you have any questions regarding the above information or any questions/concerns in general, please contact Twin Valley VHS at 745-6642.
Dr. Justin Noble DVM
Twin Valley Veterinary Health Services