Brightwood Animal Hospital

9640 Old Johnnycake Ridge Rd
Mentor, OH 44060




What is rabies?

 Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system of warm blooded animals.  This includes pets and people.  Rabies is almost always fatal.  It is the most significant zoonotic disease pet owners and veterinarians have worked together to control.  This dedication from both parties has all but eliminated the occurrence of pet to human rabies transmission in this country.


What are the signs of rabies in an animal?

 The disease can be divided into three stages.  The first is the prodromal phase in which there is a change in temperament.  The usually friendly dog becomes agitated, and the active dog becomes nervous or shy.  Other signs may include dilated pupils, drooling, and snapping at objects that don’t exist.  After several days, the second phase begins.  This is called the excitatory phase.  There is an exaggerated response to sights and sounds.  Dogs may exhibit bizarre changes in behavior.  The dog may wander aimlessly, engage in self mutilation, and have a change in the way it barks.  There will often be unpredictable, aggressive behavior, even towards the owner.  Some dogs may seizure.  Finally, there may be a dumb phase in which the dog becomes depressed.  It’s mouth may hang open with the tongue protruding.  Eventually, total body paralysis sets in.  Ultimately, the animal will die.  There have been a few cases that have survived, but this is rare.


How do I know if an animal has rabies?

 There are a number of diseases that affect the nervous system and can cause some of the signs of rabies.  The actual diagnosis is made by microscopic examination of the animal’s brain tissue.  This requires that the animal be euthanized.  Afterwards, it’s head is sent to a special diagnostic laboratory.


How do people catch rabies?

Rabies is usually transmitted by contacting the saliva of a rabid animal.  Most typically this would be by being bitten.  A bite does not have to occur, however.  The virus can enter the body through an open sore or through irritated mucus membranes.  There are other potential ways to be exposed that are beyond the scope of this article.  Any potential or suspected exposure to rabies should be reported immediately to your physician and the local public health authorities.  Any bite or physical contact with any strange animal should be reported immediately to your physician.  If you are bitten by any animal, you should immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.  Try to find out who owns the animal and if it is currently vaccinated for rabies.  In all cases, seek the advice of your physician.


Can wild animals spread rabies?

 Yes, all mammals wild or domestic can catch and spread rabies.  Some are more susceptible than others.  Foxes, skunks, raccoons and bats are particularly prone to rabies.  This list is not complete and there may be other more susceptible species in your particular area of the country.  Consult with your veterinarian and public health authorities for further information about your area.  You should always be very careful if any wild animal seems easily approachable or aggressive.


What can I do to protect my pets and myself?

 All pets should be vaccinated.  Your veterinarian can make the best recommendation regarding the vaccine schedule that would best suit your pet.  Rabies vaccines are safe and effective.  Protect yourself by exercising extreme caution in approaching unknown animals.  Always consult your physician if you have any questions regarding a possible exposure to a rabies carrier.


My pet never goes outside, why should my veterinarian vaccinate it against rabies?

 There are several reasons to consider vaccinating an indoor pet against rabies.  In many cases the local laws require the pet to be vaccinated whether it goes out or not.  If the pet were to bite someone, even unintentionally, that person would gain some peace of mind from knowing the pet was vaccinated.  If your pet were to accidentally escape through an open door or window, it would be protected against an exposure if vaccinated.  Finally, if an animal carrying rabies was to enter the house, for example a bat down the chimney, your pet could be exposed to rabies.

by William M. Fraser, D.V.M.

Brightwood Animal Hospital serves Mentor, Concord, Painesville and the surrounding communities.

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