World Rabies Day: What is Rabies?

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    World Rabies Day takes place on September 28th as a global health observance that was started in 2007 by the CDC. It brings partners together to improve rabies prevention and control activities around the world. This day is observed in not just the U.S but many countries around the world, especially those that have a problem with rabies. World Rabies Day provides an opportunity to consider how rabies affects your community and those across the world. Rabies may still be found in animals in many regions of the United States and internationally. Dog bites suffered during overseas travel, however, account for about a fifth of recorded rabies cases in the United States.

    Photo Credit: The Saginaw News

    What is Rabies?

    Rabies is a disease in any creature including dogs and people, that affects the brain and spinal cord and is incurable. While rabies may be prevented and even treated if discovered early, once symptoms develop, the virus can be deadly.  

    How Do Dogs Contract Rabies?

    Rabies is a disease that is transferred via saliva and is most often transmitted from a bite wound. Another possible contraction is through an open wound that has been exposed to the virus by an infected animal and then the virus enters the bloodstream. The most common way that dogs get rabies is through exposure from an infected wild animal such as bats, foxes and racoons. Luckily, it’s not very common in dogs with only about 400 to 500 cases reported in domestic pets each year. This is due to the disease being preventable by the mandatory rabies vaccine. 

    What Are The Signs of Rabies in Dogs?

    When dogs are bitten by an animal, especially one that has an unknown rabies status like a wild animal or stray dog, it’s extremely important to watch for the signs of rabies and contact your vet immediately. Once a dog is exposed to rabies, the virus can be in their body for weeks until they start to show signs of infection. In most cases, it develops in dogs in about 20-81 days post-exposure but just like with any disease, it can vary per dog, and that incubation period could be either longer or shorter. As soon as a dog shows signs of rabies, it’s unfortunately too late to treat it.

    One of the first signs of rabies is a change in behavior. When dogs have rabies, they will usually start becoming restless, irritable and show signs of aggression. On the other hand, they may also start becoming extra affectionate. And if dogs are usually excited and happy, they might possibly become suddenly relaxed and disinterested in everything. Physical signs of rabies in dogs include trouble swallowing, staggering, excessive drooling, seizures, and even paralysis is possible. 

    When a dog is infected with rabies, the disease continuously progresses, and quite quickly, and the symptoms will change over time. They may start acting overstimulated to lights, sound, and movement which may cause them to seek out dark, quiet places to getaway.

    It’s important to note that while foaming at the mouth rabies is a commonly recognized sign, not all dogs present this symptom. Instead of foaming, they may be present by excessive drooling and saliva. Unfortunately, this sign is a sign that the disease has progressed and is on the verge of the final stages. During the final stages of rabies, there are more chances of seizures and paralysis. Dogs usually can’t control their muscles, including those in their head and throat, and eventually makes breathing impossible, therefore leading to death. 

    How is Rabies Diagnosed in Dogs?

    One of the most unfortunate parts about rabies is that it’s extremely difficult to diagnose in living beings. It can’t really be diagnosed by a blood test. The only way to be 100% sure of rabies diagnoses is via brain tissue biopsy which is only possible once the infected animal has died. 

    How is Rabies Treated in Dogs?

    Unfortunately, once dogs show signs of rabies, it is not treatable. Vets will often recommend euthanasia to avoid spreading the virus. A booster shot of the rabies vaccine should be given if a dog is bitten by a wild animal to lessen that chance of contracting rabies.

    How is Rabies Prevented?

    First off, the #1 form of rabies prevention is through the rabies vaccination which is usually required by cities and states. It’s also usually required by businesses like dog daycares and groomers. If a dog is bit by another dog, it’s important to get their vaccination records from the owner (unless it’s a stray dog). Keep in mind that if your dog bites a human or another dog/animal, and you do not have up-to-date rabies vaccines, the dog may be either quarantine or even euthanized due to the possible threat they may carry. Usually, when a human has been bitten by a dog, the dog is often put in quarantine for 10 days to see if rabies develops. 

    Wild animals may carry rabies as well. If you live in an area with many wild animals, be sure to keep your dog on a leash when out and be aware of your surroundings. Keeping your dog on a leash is the best way to keep them away from possible infected animals. 

    Some countries have started vaccinating stray dogs in an effort to eradicate rabies. When 70% of dogs in a given area have been vaccinated against rabies, it has been shown to eliminate rabies in both human and canine populations. In sub-Saharan Africa, where the vast majority of dogs are owned, efforts are being made to have the majority of owned dogs vaccinated. 

    According to the National Health Portal, Rabies continues to be a problem in India and it accounts for 36% of all rabies deaths globally, reporting approximately 20,000 cases a year. This is is why India held their first Rabies Awareness Summit on World Rabies Day in 2020, in an effort to demand the government take drastic, persistent steps to eradicate rabies specifically by dog bites in India. The World Health Organization wants to completely eradicate rabies by 2030 and so at the summit, experts advised the Indian government to make rabies a “notifiable disease” (required by law to be reported to government authorities to foster accurate record-keeping). 

    Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS), a United Kingdom-based charity group started Mission Rabies, is boots on the ground in India to try and help eliminate rabies. They were founded in 2013 with a goal to vaccinate 50,000 dogs against rabies across India. Since then, they have vaccinated almost 1 million dogs!

    Photo Credit: Mission Rabies

    What if You See an Animal With Rabies?

    If you happen to come across a wild animal that is presenting signs of rabies, make sure to contact your local animal control or health department. Do not approach the animal or try to capture it yourself as you may be bitten and therefore infection. Make sure to warn others in the neighborhood as well.

    What Do You Do If Your Dog Has Been in Contact with Potentially Rabid Animal?

    If your dog has come in contact with a possibly infected animal, especially one like a wild animal or stray dog who wouldn’t have vaccines, contact your veterinarian immediately. They will usually give the dog a booster shot and clean the wound in an effort to prevent infection. The next step is to also contact the health department so the infected animal can be removed. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CLEAN THE WOUND YOURSELF WITHOUT DISPOSABLE GLOVES AS YOU CAN STILL BECOME INFECTED.

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