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Rabies: Deadly, Terrifying, Preventable -- so why is it still killing so many?

Rabies is a dangerous virus that can affect dogs and other mammals. Once symptoms appear, rabies is nearly 100% fatal. In this article, we’ll discuss some important things to know about rabies in dogs, including its causes, symptoms, and prevention. We’ll also discuss the impacts of rabies on children, who make up about half of the human victims from this dreaded disease.

Rescued large white dog in vet examination room
All of our rescued Pilot Pups get vaccinated against rabies! This is Brownie!

What is rabies in dogs?

Rabies is a virus that attacks the nervous system of animals, including dogs. It can be transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. This can happen if a dog is bitten by another animal with rabies or if the dog comes into contact with the saliva of an infected animal through an open wound.

By the way, according to the CDC, “Birds, snakes, and fish are not mammals, so they can’t get rabies and they can’t give it to you.”

Symptoms of rabies in dogs

The symptoms of rabies in dogs can be broken down into two different stages: the prodromal stage and the furious stage.

The prodromal stage typically lasts between two and three days and is characterized by changes in behavior, such as anxiety and restlessness. Other symptoms of this stage include a fever, loss of appetite, and weakness.

The furious stage (the one we all know and fear) typically lasts between two and four days and is characterized by more severe symptoms, such as aggression and disorientation. During this stage, a dog with rabies may try to attack anything that comes near them, including other animals or people. The dog may also have seizures, paralysis, or other neurological symptoms.

Dog acting aggressive
99% of rabies infections are due to bites from dogs.

Diagnosis and treatment of rabies in dogs

If you suspect that your dog may have rabies, it’s important to seek veterinary care immediately. Your vet can perform a physical exam and conduct blood tests to find out if your dog has been infected with the virus.

As with humans who get treatment before symptoms appear, there is a slight chance for your dog to survive exposure to rabies: “Once symptoms begin, there is no cure. However, if you take your dog to the vet immediately after being bitten by an animal you’re unsure about, there is a chance that the disease can be treated before it finishes incubating.”

Unfortunately, there is no cure for rabies once symptoms appear. Treatment typically involves providing supportive care to manage the symptoms of the disease. This may include providing fluids to prevent dehydration, medications to control seizures, and pain relief.

Preventing rabies in dogs

The best way to prevent rabies in dogs is to get your dog vaccinated. The rabies vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect your dog from the virus. Puppies should receive their first rabies vaccine when they are between 12 and 16 weeks old. Most experts recommend that they receive a booster shot every 1-3 years, depending on local laws.

In addition to vaccination, it is important to keep your dog away from wild animals and other dogs who may be infected with the virus. If you see a wild animal, such as a raccoon or skunk, acting strangely, do not approach them. Contact a local animal wildlife rehabilitator for advice.

Closeup image of rabies virus
The rabies virus

If your dog is bitten by another animal, it’s important to seek veterinary care right away. Your vet may recommend a rabies booster shot, even if your dog has been vaccinated before. It is also important to report the bite to your local animal control agency so they can track the spread of the virus.

How rabies in dogs impacts children

In the U.S., rabies is now rare, due to a concerted effort at prevention. But the sad reality is that many children around the world are still dying from rabies. Children are more likely to get rabies because they might play with animals and not know how to protect themselves from getting bitten. Some children may also not get the right medical care after a bite.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), rabies causes an estimated 59,000 human deaths every year and says “this number is likely a gross underestimate.” Put another way, this means that every 9 minutes, someone dies from rabies. Tragically, about 40% of these deaths are children under the age of 15. Most of these cases are reported in Africa and Asia, where stray dogs are the main source of rabies transmission.

One story that shows how serious rabies can be is about a six-year-old girl from India named Aditya Devi. She was playing outside when a stray dog bit her. Her family did not take her to the hospital until a week later, when she started showing signs of rabies. Even though Aditya received treatment, she died just a few days later. Her story shows how important it is to get medical care right away after being bitten by an animal -- because although a person can sometimes survive rabies if it is treated BEFORE symptoms appear, it is almost always fatal AFTER symptoms appear.

Another sad story is about a girl from Nigeria named Precious Adejoh. She was also playing outside when a dog bit her. Her family took her to the hospital, but doctors misdiagnosed the illness, and she did not get the right treatment. Precious got sick and died just a few weeks later. It's important for doctors to know how to diagnose and treat rabies.

Long-term solution for preventing rabies?

Rabies in dogs is the leading cause of rabies in humans. While vaccination is one way to help prevent the spread of rabies, the most effective way would be to limit the number of stray dogs who spread the disease in the first place.

On any given day worldwide, there are over 600 million stray dogs. Our nonprofit science-centered mission is to significantly reduce animal suffering on a global scale by developing a safe, edible, one-dose, permanent-lasting birth control Cookie for stray dogs and cats.

Help us dramatically reduce animal suffering and prevent the spread of rabies!

You may also be interested in reading our recent blog post

happy rescued stray dog at park
Rescued Pilot Pup Brownie, enjoying her walk!


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