Rabies is a viral disease that is transmitted through the bites of infected animals or through direct contact between their saliva and open wounds on a person or animal's body. Widespread vaccination of cats and dogs has greatly reduced the incidence of rabies in both pets and people, but tragically, several people and hundreds of pets still die every year from the disease.
After being exposed to the rabies virus, pets typically become agitated, irritable, and aggressive and can have difficulty walking and may develop seizures. This is called the furious stage of rabies. As the disease progresses, the dumb or paralytic form of develops and animals typically drool, are unable to swallow, exhibit weakness and paralysis, and soon die. If an unvaccinated dog or cat exhibits some of these symptoms and other diseases have been ruled out, a veterinarian may recommend that the animal be euthanized and tested for rabies. Unfortunately, no test is available that can identify rabies in an animal while it is alive.
Once clinical signs of rabies have developed, the disease is fatal and treatment is useless. If a pet has been exposed to a potentially rabid animal or if a dog or cat has bitten a person, various quarantine protocols are put into effect and appropriate regulatory agencies are contacted. Effective preventative rabies vaccines are readily available and serve to not only protect pets, but also the people that come in contact with them. Except in the rarest of circumstances, all dogs and cats should be vaccinated on an approved schedule for this devastating disease.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008