Rabies is an often fatal viral infection that is transferred when a pet comes into contact with an infected host. Most often, exposure occurs through contact with affected wildlife, namely bats, coyotes, foxes, or skunks. A rabid animal could bite another or make contact with an existing wound, resulting in an infection; transmission can also occur when an animal makes contact with infected saliva through the eyes or mouth. Being that the virus is zoonotic, humans are capable of contracting rabies from their pets.

A rabies vaccination is currently required by law in every state; however, exemptions do exist in 15 states. An exemption can be obtained for various reasons, including if the pet owner plans on keeping their pet in isolation or if a serious medical issue proves the vaccination would cause more harm than good. In most cases, veterinarians strongly recommend a rabies vaccination for all mammalian pets, and booster shots are required every one to three years.

Symptoms that a pet has rabies

There are several different phases during which a rabid pet will exhibit symptoms of rabies: the prodromal phase, the furious phase, and the paralytic phase. The furious phase most commonly occurs among cats, and the paralytic phase can occur either after the prodromal or furious phase. It can take up to eight weeks for noticeable symptoms to appear; however, a pet can become contagious up to ten days prior.

Prodromal phase: 

  • Bouts of irritability
  • Fever
  • Nervousness
  • Shyness
  • Solitude

Furious phase: 

  • Biting
  • Disorientation
  • Increased sensitivity to sound and light
  • Irritability
  • Possible viciousness
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures

Paralytic phase: 

  • Eventual respiratory failure
  • Facial paralysis
  • Inability to swallow
  • Increased salivation
  • Labored breathing

What do I do if my pet is exposed to rabies?

Rabies is impossible to positively diagnose in a living animal or human. In order to definitively determine whether a pet has the virus, the brain tissue must be examined; therefore, tests are not conducted until a pet has passed on.

If you suspect that your pet has been exposed to a rabid animal, call the veterinarian immediately. Also, be sure to report the incident to your local health department and animal control center, and listen to their recommendations. If you must handle your pet, be sure to do so cautiously, as the virus can live on a pet’s skin for a few hours. Preventative measures, including wearing gloves and protective clothing, are the best way to prevent self-exposure to the virus.

Pets that are up-to-date on their vaccinations and have been bitten will be immediately administered with another vaccination and should be closely monitored by their owners for the next 45 days. If a pet is not vaccinated, euthanasia is highly recommended. If a pet owner is against euthanasia, it is possible to keep the pet in isolation for a 6 month period (usually at a pound or shelter), administering a vaccination immediately and again after 28 days. In these instances, it is rare that the pet will survive, but it still remains an option. If a vaccination has lapsed, public health officials will determine what action to take based on how past-due a pet is, the pet’s overall health, and how severe the exposure was.

If you have any questions about rabies or preventative measures you can take for your pet, please contact our office.


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