Rabies sounds almost as frightening as the human plague. And rightly so, because a dog or human suffering from rabies can hardly be saved. Until recently, dogs in Germany had to be vaccinated against rabies every year. That has changed a lot in the past few years so many dog owners are unsettled. You’re asking yourself: Should I still vaccinate my dog against rabies at all? Here you can find out everything you need to know about the disease.
What actually is rabies?
Rabies is the name of a disease caused by rabies viruses from the genus Lyssaviruses, which is transmitted through saliva or through the mucous membranes and blood. All mammals, especially carnivorous animals such as dogs, cats, foxes, wolves, raccoons, ferrets, and bats, as well as humans can be infected with the rabies virus. Infection usually occurs through bites or scratches.
Rabies is a deadly disease that always ends in death for the unvaccinated dog.
Dogs in Europe are mostly infected by foxes or each other with the virus. The incubation period after a bite injury is two to ten weeks. It depends heavily on how close the wound is to the brain. After the onset of rabies, the disease progresses between one day and one week.
The rabies viruses spread very quickly via the bloodstream and somewhat more slowly via the nerve tracts and thus reach their final destination, the brain.
There are no proven antidotes for dogs to cure an outbreak of rabies. A prophylactic vaccination alone can save a dog’s life.
Rabies in dogs: symptoms
The symptoms of rabies in dogs result from the central nervous system (CNS) being disturbed by the virus. The closer the site of infection is to the brain, the faster the virus can infect the CNS. This also applies to an infection route through the bloodstream. As in humans, symptoms of rabies in dogs are caused by acute and massive inflammation of the brain. The disease usually progresses in three phases, with dog owners often not recognizing the first phase.
- possibly cough
- occasional personality changes
- Increased personality changes and changing moods
- Sensitivity to light, air, and wind noise
- The sight of water triggers unnatural behavior
- Fear, shyness, and withdrawal in the “silent rage” variant
- Losses of aggression, unmotivated and constant barking, and increasing restlessness in the “raging rage” variant
- Paralysis, especially on the hind legs
- muscle twitches
- Salivate, tongue hanging out, jaw lock (open)
- final paralysis
- Coma and death from respiratory paralysis (suffocation)
Rabies in dogs: treatment
Rabies is notifiable and subject to government control. It will be reported to the responsible medical officer, who will decide how to proceed. If your dog is suspected of being in contact with a wild animal that has become conspicuous or of certain symptoms of rabies infection, the official veterinarian will order it to be killed without treatment.
Dogs that can be proven to be completely vaccinated are not killed, they may be under surveillance. Here, too, the official veterinarian decides on the measures to be taken.
A well-founded suspicion of rabies infection can lead to a quarantine of three to six months even in a vaccinated dog.
How is rabies diagnosed in dogs?
A 100% diagnosis cannot be made on a living animal. With today’s possibilities, the rabies pathogen can only be detected by examining the brain matter. The diagnosis is therefore limited to the clinical history.
Rabies in dogs: therapy?
Even if there is theoretically the possibility of giving your possibly infected dog the measures from human medicine, this is not allowed. However, these options would be very limited anyway and would only lead to success if the infected patient received an antiserum and vaccinations at the same time within a few hours.
When your unvaccinated dog shows the first symptoms of possible rabies, rabies infection is assumed and the animal is killed.
The rabies vaccination for dogs is still one of the most urgently recommended, so-called core vaccinations. Have your puppy vaccinated against rabies as early as the 12th week of life and ensure a good basic immunization.
With this measure, you protect your dog and make a significant contribution to minimizing the pathogens of rabies in the entire animal population.