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What is Rabies?

An important thing to note is that only mammals are able to contract rabies. Typically, rabies is found in wild animals like skunks, bats, coyotes, raccoons, and foxes who are unable to be vaccinated.  Rabies is a virus that affects the brain and spinal cord of all mammals. The virus is typically spread through the secretion of saliva in animals, which is why it is primarily passed through dogs when they are bitten by an infected animal. The virus can also be passed through an open wound if contact with saliva is made.


If you watch movies or television, you probably envision rabies as white foam around the mouth and aggressive behavior. While these are accurate symptoms of rabies, there are also other indicators that aren’t typically seen on the screen. If your pet has become overly aggressive this could be a key indicator or rabies, but did you know that rabies can also make your pet more affectionate? That’s right, in domestic animals this may not seem like a standout characteristic, but do be careful if a wild animal seems to be unafraid of humans. This is very unusual behavior and a sign that rabies has already traveled to affect their brain. If your pet begins to stagger, seem to have difficulty swallowing, or suddenly experiences paralysis, these may also be signs that they have been exposed to rabies.

Once exposed, symptoms do not become outwardly visible for two to eight weeks due to a longer incubation period. However, even if signs are not visible, your pet is still able to transmit the virus after a few days of being exposed.


House pets are not the only pets you should be worried about contracting rabies. Horses and livestock are just as likely to be exposed to carriers of rabies, if not more likely, than your house pets. Signs of rabies in your livestock may be increased sensitivity to light, depression, or self-mutilation. If you have large amounts of livestock or horse that are kept on a large area of land, it is important to be vigilant and keep an eye on their behavior. Rabies is a neurological disease that will show visible changes in behavior.


Unfortunately, there is no treatment once the clinical signs of rabies appear, which is why it is extremely important to have your pets vaccinated routinely. If your pet happens to be bitten by a wild animal, even if they are up to date with their vaccines, still take them to the veterinarian to be revaccinated, or kept in isolation for a few months. If your pet is unvaccinated and shows the signs consistent with rabies diagnoses, they may have to be euthanized.

There is also no way to diagnose rabies in live animals. Only a true diagnosis can be made by extracting brain tissue, which must be done after death.

Risk to Humans

Rabies can be fatal if contracted by humans, killing around 59,000 people every year. As technology and medical science for both animals and humans has improved, this number has reduced drastically. The most common transmission from animals to humans is from exposure to bats. If you have been exposed or even bitten by a bat, seek medical attention immediately. Dogs, although less common, still prove to be a significant source of rabies that can ultimately be transmitted to humans.

To keep yourself safe and reduce your risk of contracting the rabies virus, make sure to observe wild animals from a distance. If animals in the wild seem approachable, this is a major red flag and a common symptom of rabies. If you have been bitten by your pet who you suspect of having rabies, contact your doctor immediately for treatment. If you come across an animal that seems to be exhibiting strange behavior, contact your local animal control or wildlife department and they will instruct you on how to properly and safely handle the situation.


Vaccination is the number one way to combat rabies in your pets. Recently, there has been a rise in the number of cases of rabies in domestic house cats due to a lack of vaccinations and higher exposure to wildlife outdoors. To schedule an appointment to have your pet vaccinated call us at 704-636-1100 or click here to view our other scheduling options. Another way to limit the exposure of your pets is to supervise your pets when they are outdoors. Letting your pets roam freely without supervision increases the chances that a wild animal can come into contact with your pet. For quality leashes and collars to help keep your pet within range, click here. Another tip is to properly take care of your garbage. Leaving exposed trash that contains food scraps will attract wild or stray animals and bring them closer to your house pet.


Rabies and Lepto vaccines are a public health concern and need to be kept up to date.  To read more of the essential guidelines that are crucial for your pet’s health, read the rest of the blog here. If your pet is also dealing with those pesky fleas and ticks, read about prevention and treatment in our blog to make sure your pet is enjoying the warm weather and not stopping to scratch every few seconds.