Rabies: Diagnosis, Prevention & The Value Of Vaccination


  • Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system of mammals, including humans.
  • The rabies virus is transmitted by contact with the saliva of an infected animal. A bite wound is usually the source of transmission, but a scratch or an existing open wound can also allow the spread of the virus.
  • Animals are typically the transmitters.
  • In the United States the most common rabies carriers are bats, coyotes, raccoons, foxes and skunks.
  • Dogs can spread this disease from one dog to another within the dog population as well as to humans. Dogs are responsible for 99% of rabies cases in humans because of their close proximity and relationship to humans.
  • There is no cure for infected animals and rabies is usually fatal. When clinical signs occur, an infected animal will often die within five days. The cases in the United States of rabies in domestic pets average 400 to 500 per year.
  • Rabies in humans is mostly preventable with prompt and appropriate medical care.

If bitten or scratched, immediately consult a healthcare professional about treatment known as rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). If rabies is left untreated, the disease may progress from mild symptoms to coma and eventual death.


Infected animals often show:

  • Anxiety, aggressive or unusual behavior.
  • They also may develop weakness, lack of coordination or shaking movements.
  • Wild rabid animals often lose their fear of humans.
  • Animals that are nocturnal may wander about in the day.


Rabies symptoms can be similar to those of the flu and may last for days and increase in severity. Symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Excessive salivation
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Partial paralysis


Because of their close relationship to humans, dogs are responsible for most rabies cases in humans. Vaccinating dogs is the quickest and fastest way to protect people.

Rabies-related human deaths in the United States has declined to just one or two per year since 1960. This is the result of pet vaccination and animal control programs, public health information, and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for rabies.


Unfortunately, there is no cure for rabies, therefore:

  • Have your pets vaccinated as often as advised. Keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all cats, ferrets, and dogs.
  • Don’t allow your pets to roam or explore unsupervised.
  • Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or vaccinated regularly.
  • Don’t take your pets to territories that have not been declared ‘rabies-free’.
  • Call animal control to remove all stray animals from your neighborhood since these animals may be unvaccinated or ill.
  • Avoid contact with any animals that are unfamiliar to you or acting strangely.
  • Anyone who may have a risk of contracting rabies should receive rabies vaccinations for protection.
  • Raise disease awareness and educate people about the virus.

Note: If you think a deceased pet is carrying rabies, rather contact animal control services to help you take him or her to the veterinarian. Diagnosis may provide peace of mind and inform further action, if anyone else (animal or human) is at risk.


If you have the smallest suspicion that your pet may have been exposed to the rabies virus, don’t ignore your instincts. Safely transport your pet to the nearest veterinarian for evaluation. Be careful around his or her mouth and rather wear thick gloves.

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