Rabies is a serious and fatal disease, and we are sure that as soon as you became a caretaker of your animals, you were told to be aware of the rabies virus. Although grim, the good news is that this disease is entirely preventable! Because your pet is more likely to contract it than you, the following article is largely about how it can be spotted, treated, and prevented in domestic canines. If you need any immediate help with your animal, please call us at (307) 347-2781, or visit our website to look at the options.
Let’s begin at one possible avenue the disease is likely to follow; your canine. As a dog owner, you should be very aware of any rabies threats that your dog may face, including their environment, the other dogs that they are around, and the frequency your pup will be around wild animals. The first step to learning how to protect against rabies is to understand how it transmits.
To begin, the rabies disease largely “lives” in the saliva of the rabid mammal. The virus can be transmitted through bites and scratches from said animal. When an animal licks their paws over and over again, the saliva (and all the nasty stuff), sticks onto their paws and under their claws. Although a scratch might seem like it would be safer, both a bite and a scratch are equally dangerous to you, and that’s because the way the virus attacks the system is the same.
Whether bitten, scratched, or anything other close transmission, the virus will immediately begin traveling to and attacking the central nervous system and brain. Although it begins with a light touch, the virus is very effectively gaining control of the living organism. The peripheral nervous system is the perfect passageway for the rabies to work its way up to the central system. This peripheral system includes: legs, arms, bladder, tail, and more. Rabies will continue to take down each part until it gets to the central system, i.e. the brain and spinal column. From there, the disease will continue to reproduce and spread until it gets to the salivary glands. Then, it takes over the dog’s saliva and it becomes contagious. After that point, the rabies has completely overtaken the mammal, and their brain greatly suffers, causing death.
In North America, the most common animals that are infected are skunks, bats, raccoons, and coyotes. When you are looking at the animals that come into your environment, please be aware of the animals to be the most wary about in your area. If you live in Worland, WY, or the general area, Cloud Peak can offer you great advice about the wildlife you’ll be dealing with the most.
In the next section, we will talk about what symptoms to take notice of, so that your family is protected.
Rabies attacks each dog in a slightly different way, depending on the circumstances. If the infection site is closer to the neck or head, the symptoms will typically develop quicker than if the site is closer to the paws. The severity of the wound is also important. If it is really deep, more saliva will be transferred, so the likelihood of the disease entering your dog’s system increases. In addition to that, the incubation period heavily varies on the infection site. Typical incubation takes anywhere from three to six weeks, however cases can range from nine days all the way to a couple years. The surest way to know if your pet has rabies is to take note of the symptoms. There are two different phases of the virus, and it’s important to and that’s where you’re going to understand what to be wary of. The two phases are laid out below.
The Two Phases of Rabies Symptoms:
The first phase is a drastic change in temperament. For example, if your lab, Winni, is normally a very happy dog who loves to play, but becomes aggressive or agitated, then you know there’s a problem. And it works on the opposite end too! If your great dane, Moose, is normally a very shy dog who does not like to play then becomes more aggressive and active, then you know that something is amiss. It usually means rabies.
The second phase could be one of two things. Keep in mind that both of these phases are fatal, so it is best to seek immediate medical attention. The most common phase that a dog will go through is something called “dumb rabies.” This is more paralytic than the other one. Slowly, the body is overtaken by paralysis. The limbs and face are the most obvious areas to actually see the paralysis take over. The infected dog’s face will visibly distort unlike anything they’ve exhibited before. The paralysis spreads to the throat, which can make it hard for the dog to swallow. Eventually, the dog becomes comatose and will then die. This is by far the more “pleasant” phase of rabies. The other phase is called “furious rabies.” This type is a lot closer to the media’s representation of rabies. Dogs with furious rabies are extremely aggressive, highly excitable and have a depraved appetite. A depraved appetite leads them to show signs of pica. Pica is when people or animals have a craving for something that isn’t in their normal diet and is not normally consumed. Pica for a pregnant woman could be that she’s eating clay. Pica for a rabies-infected dog would include earth, stones, and trash. In this phase, the dog does not become comatose like the last option, but rather their death follows a very violent seizure. As discussed, both phases end with you having to bury your pet. That’s why veterinarians take it so seriously. You may be asking, “What can I do to prevent rabies?” Let us answer your question in the next section!
Unfortunately, there is no 100% effective preventative for rabies. However, there are things that can be done, like the rabies vaccine. Typically, household pets get their rabies vaccine at three months old, and then will need a booster the following year. The frequency of the booster is dependent on the product used, so make sure to have a clear answer from your vet regarding how often you need to come back and re-up the vaccines. Keep in mind that most states require a rabies vaccination, and if yours doesn’t, the CDC highly recommends vaccination before traveling across state lines. If you want to learn more about what the CDC has specifically advised, check out this link. Vaccinating your pet against rabies can be essential to their health and to the health of your community, both human and animal, so keep their vaccinations up to date.
You may be wondering how a vaccine would help your dog’s system fight rabies, so let’s go into the science of it! Once introduced to your animal’s system, the vaccine will promote the production of rabies-fighting antibodies. As long as your dog is given the vaccine before they ever contract it, they will most likely stay and be healthy. After a certain period of time, the body will recognize the need for the proper antibodies less and less, thus producing them less and less. That’s why your pup will need booster shots.
There is a lot to know about rabies but very, very little to be done after transmission. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to get any antiviral drugs to the brain, which is where the disease ultimately resides. In fact, the virus will convince the immune system to fight itself and not the infectious cells. If you’d like to learn more about the science behind the lack of treatment, please refer to this article!
The bottom line: prevention is the most important step to take. Please reach out to us with any questions or concerns. We are here to keep you and your furry family members healthy and safe!