Rabies in Dogs & Puppies - Signs, Causes & Treatment

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Rabies is a deadly viral disease that, if left untreated, results in almost certain death for animals and humans alike. This severe disease attacks the central nervous system and is a cause for serious concern, particularly when it comes to our beloved dogs. Puppies are especially vulnerable to rabies, and it's our responsibility as pet owners to be informed and take preventive measures. This article will shed light on understanding and preventing rabies in puppies.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a serious but preventable viral disease caused by the rabies virus, which belongs to the Rhabdoviridae family. It primarily spreads through contact with the saliva of an infected animal, usually through bites or scratches. Once inside the body, the virus travels along the nerves towards the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). There, it can cause severe inflammation and a range of neurological problems. Sadly, if left untreated, rabies is nearly always fatal.

Can puppies get rabies?

Yes, it is true that puppies, much like adult dogs, are also vulnerable to rabies. Due to their underdeveloped immune systems and the innate curiosity that accompanies their young age, puppies may even be at a greater risk of contracting the virus. It's important to remember that puppies often haven't received the full series of dog rabies vaccinations, leaving them vulnerable if they encounter an infected animal. Their playful nature can lead them to explore areas where they may come into contact with wildlife that could potentially carry the rabies virus.

Causes of rabies in puppies

Rabies is a severe viral disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals, including our faithful dogs. It's essential to understand how puppies can contract dog rabies to protect them effectively. Here's a breakdown of the primary causes of rabies:

  • Infected saliva and bite wounds: The rabies virus dwells in the saliva of infected animals. The most typical way for puppies to contract rabies is through a bite from a rabid animal. Wild animals like raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats are frequent carriers. However, sadly, even unvaccinated dogs or cats can harbor and transmit the virus.
  • Open wounds and saliva contact: While less common, the virus can also be transmitted if the saliva of an infected animal comes into contact with an open wound or the mucous membranes (lining of the eyes, nose, or mouth) of a susceptible puppy.
  • Unvaccinated puppies: Rabies vaccinations are not only highly effective but often legally mandated for pets. Puppies without their rabies vaccinations are at a significantly higher risk of becoming infected with this dangerous virus. Always check with your veterinarian about the appropriate vaccination schedule for your young furry friend.

Signs and symptoms of rabies in puppies

Rabies is a serious viral infection that targets the central nervous system. It is crucial to understand both the early and later-stage symptoms of rabies in dogs since timely intervention is critical for ensuring the safety of both the animal and surrounding humans.

Early rabies signs in dogs

The onset of rabies in puppies can be difficult to detect, as early signs are often general and resemble other illnesses. These might include:

  • Fever: An elevated temperature can be one of the first indications of infection.
  • Lethargy: Your usually playful puppy may appear unusually tired or subdued.
  • Changes in appetite: A decrease or reluctance in consuming food and beverages as typically observed.
  • Minor behavioral changes: These can be subtle, such as seeming slightly more apprehensive or demonstrating unusual clinginess.

Clinical progression and later symptoms

As the rabies virus continues to spread within the puppy's system, more pronounced symptoms develop:

  • Behavioral changes: Rabies can cause significant behavioral shifts. Infected puppies may exhibit:
    • Aggression: Uncharacteristic biting or snapping.
    • Restlessness and hyperactivity: Pacing, difficulty sitting still.
    • Disorientation: Appearing confused or lost in familiar surroundings.
    • Abnormal shyness or reclusiveness: This might be uncharacteristic of the puppy's personality.
  • Seizures: Seizures are a common neurological symptom in the advanced stages of rabies.
  • Difficulty swallowing: Rabies can damage the muscles involved in swallowing. This can lead to:
    • Excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth: Due to an inability to swallow saliva.
    • Difficulty eating and drinking: Further impacting the puppy's health.
  • Paralysis: Rabies can cause progressive paralysis. Frequently, this begins with weakness in the hind legs and gradually spreads throughout the body.

Rabies prevention

Prevention is the ultimate key to combatting rabies in puppies. These measures are vital:

  • Getting vaccinated: Rabies vaccinations are highly effective and typically mandated by law. Take your puppy for their first rabies vaccine for dogs when they reach at least four months of age, then follow your veterinarian's booster shot schedule.
  • Keep away from stray animals: Supervise your puppy outdoors and avoid close contact with unfamiliar and stray animals, especially those acting strangely.
  • Regular checkups: Regular veterinary visits help ensure your puppy's vaccinations are up-to-date and they receive prompt care for any potential bites or wounds.

Treatment of rabies in puppies

Unfortunately, once symptoms of rabies in dogs appear, there is currently no known cure for the condition. The virus is almost always fatal. If your puppy has been bitten by a potentially rabid animal, seek immediate veterinary care. Early intervention may involve cleaning the wound and administering an emergency series of rabies vaccinations and rabies immune globulin, but only if given before symptoms begin.

Rabies is a preventable yet dangerous disease. As a pet parent, your vigilance is vital in safeguarding your puppy. By ensuring rabies vaccinations, minimizing their exposure to wild or unfamiliar animals, and seeking prompt medical attention if a bite occurs, you can drastically reduce the risk of this devastating condition. Let's prioritize protecting our furry friends from rabies.

Read here to explore potential causes if your dog is ill, excluding rabies and other common illnesses

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Frequently asked questions

Yes, puppies can get rabies. Rabies is a virus spread through bites or scratches from infected animals, usually wild ones like bats or raccoons. Puppies without a rabies vaccination are at risk. 

Sadly, rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. Treatment is only possible if given immediately after exposure, before the virus reaches the brain.

Puppies get rabies if they're bitten by a rabid animal. They're most vulnerable before receiving their rabies vaccination, typically around 12-16 weeks old.

It's very rare for a puppy to survive rabies. Once symptoms like aggression or paralysis develop, the outcome is almost always fatal. Preventing rabies with vaccination is crucial.