How to Treat a Dog with Rabies
How to Treat a Dog for Rabies
Rabies is a preventable virus that can affect a dog’s brain and nervous system. Thankfully, regular vaccines prevent most cases of rabies in domestic pets. Most dogs contract the virus after being exposed to the saliva of an infected animal via a bite or scratch. It’s important to treat bites and scratches immediately, and then to quarantine your dog. During quarantine, you’ll need to watch for signs of infection. Since there’s no cure for dogs, it’s best to protect the dog from the virus. Unfortunately, there is no diagnostic test for rabies, and dogs that are suspected of having it must be euthanized to keep from spreading the disease to humans or other animals.
Starting Treatment for Potential Exposure
Protect yourself before treating the dog.Wear protective clothing, such as long sleeves, long pants, and gloves. Limit how much you handle the dog to reduce your chance of contracting the infection. Avoid coming into contact with the saliva, which is how the virus is usually transmitted.
- The virus can remain alive on the dog for up to 2 hours.
Disinfect any wounds immediately but carefully.Inspect your dog for wounds if they are in a fight with an unknown animal, especially a wild or feral one. Clean the wound with running water and disinfectant soap. Continuously run water over the wound for at least 15 minutes to flush out as much of the possibly-infected saliva as possible.
- If you have iodine, you can apply that to the wound to kill the virus.
- You should wear gloves while washing out the bite or scratch, as you can also get the rabies virus if you’re exposed to the saliva of an infected animal.
- If the animal that wounded your dog is still in the vicinity, contact your local animal control office so they can quarantine or capture it for testing.
Call your vet for an emergency visit.Tell the vet that your dog may have come in contact with an animal that has rabies. Let the vet know if your dog is vaccinated or not. Expect the vet to notify the local authorities or health agency that the dog was potentially exposed to rabies.
- If your vet cannot get you in that day, it's best to visit a vet that provides emergency services.
Get your pet’s vaccination records together.Having proof that your dog is vaccinated can help protect your dog against euthanization. This is because unvaccinated dogs that are exposed to the rabies virus usually need to be euthanized. Vaccinated dogs can be given a booster shot that helps prevent the virus, even if they were bitten by a rabid animal.
- If your dog is behind on its vaccines, it’s still helpful to show these records.
- Unvaccinated dogs may also be given a booster shot, but it won’t be as effective.
Ask the vet to give your dog a rabies booster shot.A booster vaccine provides further protection for your pet. Even dogs that have been vaccinated against rabies as recommended can get the virus, as the vaccine is not 100% effective.
Consider euthanasia if your dog is not vaccinated.The vet will likely recommend euthanizing the dog if it's unvaccinated and came in contact with an animal suspected of having rabies. The only diagnostic test for rabies involves organ removal and needs to be performed on a deceased animal. An infected pet poses a potential threat to humans and other animals.
- If you believe it’s unlikely that the dog has rabies, then you can discuss quarantine options with your vet to allow more time to observe the dog.
Setting Up a Quarantine
Talk to your vet about quarantine options.Some vet clinics have a special area where pets are quarantined. This may be your best option if the animal that bit or scratched your dog shows signs of rabies, as it will protect your family and other pets. The vet may allow you to take the dog home if you can show that you have an area set up for quarantine, such as a kennel.
- During quarantine, you need to make sure that no people and animals can get to the dog. Make sure that children and other family pets cannot get into the room where the dog is kept.
- In some cases, your vet may be able to deny your request to quarantine your dog.
Secure your dog in a safe, confined area for at least 10 days.It’s important that you talk with your vet about the dog’s vaccination record, its behavior, and the behavior of the animal that bit your dog to determine the right time period for quarantine. Most areas have laws regarding rabies quarantine, so you could break the law if you release the dog too early.
- In most cases, the length of time your dog needs to be quarantined will depend on what type of animal that bit your dog. If a wild animal bit your dog, expect your vet to recommend a longer quarantine.
- The length of your quarantine will likely last longer than 10 days, depending on the rules in your area. Vaccinated pets may be quarantined for 45 days if bitten by a wild animal. If your pet is not vaccinated, it could be quarantined for up to 4-6 months, even if it shows no symptoms.
Make sure the quarantine area is humane but effective.You’ll need to set up a cage for your dog, no matter where you house it. The cage should be large enough that the dog can turn around. It should have a secure lock, as well as slats for you to slide in the dog's food and water. Place the cage in a room with light so that the dog can enjoy light during daytime hours and darkness at night.
- Make sure that you can feed and water the dog without risking a dog bite. If you have to open the cage and put your arm in, then it’s not fit for quarantine.
Observing and Ending the Quarantine
Watch for restlessness in your dog.The dog may be irritable and distracted, and show constant changes in attitude. You’ll also likely notice changes in your dog’s behavior.
- At this stage, you may notice that a dog that has previously been friendly is suddenly irritable or mean. A dog that has previously been hyper may now be docile.
- Keep in mind that restlessness could also be due to being kept in the quarantine cage.
Notice if the dog becomes more aggressive.Most dogs that have rabies will become aggressive. They’ll lash out at the cage and try to attack people or other animals. If you notice aggression, especially if it’s extreme, it’s best to contact your vet immediately.
- Do not let anyone else near the dog, especially if it’s showing signs of aggression.
Check to see if the dog is licking, biting, or scratching its wound site.This symptom may go along with the dog’s irritability. It’s usually more prevalent at the beginning stage, before the dog starts to experience symptoms that make it hard for it to lick the wound.
Watch for sensitivity to touch, light, and sound.The dog may show this by shielding itself from light, trying to hide, and acting out when the light is turned on. The dog may also get upset or become aggressive when sounds are made, even if the dog previously liked that sound. Although you should not try to touch the dog, you may notice that it recoils when you approach the cage to slide its food through the slats.
- Remember that you should not try to touch the dog, as you could get bitten.
Notice if the dog appears uncoordinated or paralyzed.Rabies will affect the dog’s muscles and motor function, so you may see it staggering around the cage or having trouble standing. The dog may also become completely paralyzed. These symptoms mean that the dog needs attention from a vet, so call your vet immediately.
Observe the dog’s eating habits for loss of appetite or eating non-foods.The dog may lose interest in its food, especially if it’s having trouble eating due to muscle paralysis. Alternatively, you may notice that the dog is trying to eat odd items, such as dirt or pieces of cardboard.
Look for foaming at the mouth.This is the most recognizable symptom of rabies. Foaming at the mouth is caused by paralysis in the animal’s throat and jaw. The saliva that builds up in the animal’s mouth looks like foam.
- It’s important to remember that not all animals that contract rabies will have foaming at the mouth.
Get the dog euthanized if it shows signs of infection.Unfortunately, there is no cure for rabies in dogs. The dog must be euthanized. It's best to do this at the earliest signs of infection, as it's the most humane decision. Additionally, it will prevent the dog from infecting others.
- Contact your vet to discuss your options for euthanizing the dog. They may be willing to do a house call if your dog is quarantined at home.
Bring your dog to the vet for evaluation.At the end of the quarantine, your dog must be examined by the vet to make sure it doesn’t show signs of rabies. The vet will conduct a physical examination of the dog and discuss its behavior during quarantine. At this point, the vet will decide if the dog can leave quarantine or if it may have an infection.
- There is no diagnostic test to determine if a living dog has rabies. The vet must use the information available to ensure the safety of people and animals that will come in contact with your dog if it’s released.
- If the dog is suspected of having rabies, the vet will have to euthanize it.
Reducing Future Infection Chances
Get your dog vaccinated against rabies.The best line of defense is to get your dog vaccinated. Keep the dog’s vaccination record and make sure that it is up-to-date on its booster shots.
- You have 2 rabies vaccine options for your dog. All dogs should be vaccinated as early as 3 months old. Then they will need a booster shot at 1 year of age. After that, the dog can be on an annual vaccination plan or a 3-year vaccination plan. Talk to your vet about what’s right for your pup.
- The interval at which your dog should receive the rabies vaccine depends upon local laws in your area. Consult your veterinarian for more information.
Make sure all of your other pets or family animals are vaccinated.Since the vaccine is not 100% effective, you want to protect your dog as much as possible by vaccinating all of the animals that you allow around your pet, whether it's other family pets or livestock that your family owns.
- Cats are more likely to get rabies than dogs are, which is likely because they are hunters that come in contact with wild animals if allowed outdoors. It’s important that your family cats be vaccinated.
Keep your dog away from wild animals.The biggest risk to your dog will be rabid wild animals, such as raccoons, foxes, skunks, or bats. Your dog could encounter these animals while out for its walk or while in your backyard relieving itself. An animal that has rabies will have out-of-character behaviors, so it may not hesitate to walk up to a larger animal or human in the middle of the day.
- The best way to protect your dog is to keep it inside as much as possible or in a yard protected from wildlife. When it does go outside, monitor it so that it doesn’t have the opportunity to encounter wild animals.
Secure your trash so that wild animals aren’t attracted to your yard.Wild animals could get used to coming in your yard to eat from your trash. If they become infected, then your pets and family will be at risk. You can lower the chance of that happening by getting a trash can that is hard for wild animals to open. This makes your yard less desirable for them.
QuestionI don't know if my dog has rabies; he bit a mouse and he is having a little trouble in swallowing and is scratching himself a lot. Does he have rabies?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTake him to a vet just in case, it would be a good idea to have the symptoms diagnosed regardless so you can help him with the issues.Thanks!
QuestionThe dog has the wound on his body but he has not bitten me. That said, he does look more aggressive. Could it be rabies?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerGo to the vet immediately. He is probably more aggressive because it is really painful and he if trying to protect it.Thanks!
- Seek immediate medical attention if you are bitten or come into contact with the saliva of a rabid animal or animal you suspect may have rabies.
- Remember that the rabies vaccine is not 100% effective in dogs, so it’s unlikely but possible your dog could contract rabies despite being vaccinated. Getting your pet vaccinated is the best protection against a rabies infection.
Video: Rabies -Symptoms and Treatment - Explained Simply
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