Most Common Canine Illnesses – Rabies

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While rabies is nowhere near as widespread as it had been a century ago and while rabies among dogs has actually become quite rare in the United States, it is still a condition that we simply had to cover, for a number of reasons. For one, it is still an almost invariably deadly disease, both for the dog and, potentially, humans that would be bitten by an infected dog. Furthermore, it is never a bad idea to remind people of the importance of the rabies vaccination for their dogs.

But let’s start with the cold, hard facts. Rabies is a condition caused by a certain type of virus that holds the same name. The virus enters the body of a dog (or human for that matter, but we are concerned with dogs here) via the saliva of another infected animal. This can be any carnivorous mammal, such as a fox, a badger, a raccoon, a cat or another dog. The most common carriers of rabies in the United States at the moment, however, are bats, followed by cats.

When the virus “jumps” from the saliva to the bite area on your dog, it is quickly transported via nerves to the brain. The good news is that it takes some time for the virus to reach the brain – between 3 to 8 weeks in dogs. The bad news is that if nothing is done in the meantime and the virus actually reaches the brain, it is pretty much game over.

Namely, there is no treatment for rabies. Moreover, if the symptoms indicate clearly enough that the dog is suffering from rabies, they are often euthanized. Sometimes this is even prescribed by law, but even when it isn’t, it is an act of kindness when you consider the alternative – a full-on case of rabies.

Once the rabies virus infects the brain, there are three different phases of the disease that the dog may experience before the fatal outcome. They may experience only one of them, two or even all three phases.

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The first of these is the Prodormal Phase which rarely lasts more than 3 days in dogs. This phase is mostly characterized by the changes in dog’s personality. A previously calm and docile dog may become erratic and aggressive, while a previously energetic and active dog may become lethargic. The dog will also become nervous, anxious and they will seek solitude in most cases. In some cases, these changes in personality are also accompanied by fever. Finally, most dogs will lick the bite area.

The second phase is called the Furious Phase and this phase can last anywhere between 1 and 7 days. While dogs are less likely to experience this phase than cats, they still do sometimes. During this phase, the dog will become even more restless and they will exhibit increased sensitivity and responsiveness to visual or auditory stimuli. They will also become very irritable and even vicious. This phase is often fatal, as the dog will experience seizures and die.

The third phase is the Paralytic Phase, sometimes also called the dumb phase. It most commonly occurs after one or both of the previously discussed phases. During this phase, the physiological effects of rabies can be observed, such as slacking of the jaw, the inability of the dog to swallow and increased salivation. During this phase, dog’s facial muscles and diaphragm become more and more paralyzed and before soon, the dogs experience respiratory failure which is fatal.

Once again, there is no known treatment for rabies. If your dog starts showing symptoms, it is too late.

The good news is that this horrific disease has been put under control in the United States and most of the developed world. The obligatory rabies vaccinations protect dogs from contracting this disease and thanks to human vaccines and immunoglobulin treatments prior to symptoms, the disease now only claims one life per year in the country. Worldwide, unfortunately, this number if much larger and it is estimated that anywhere between 25,000 and 55,000 people die every year, mostly in Asia and Africa.

You have no choice as to whether you will vaccinate your dog as it is mandated by law in the United States. Make sure your dog gets all the vaccinations and try to be aware of their movements and location at all times, especially if you live in areas where wild animals may be nearby.

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