If you, like every other dog lover on earth, are still processing the trauma of watching Old Yeller, you’ll know that as a dog parent, the R-word can cause all kinds of panic.

What’s the r-word, you say? Rabies.

While that tragic movie was made in the late 1950s, the realities of this devastating disease are still as real as ever.

So, in the interest of arming you with information, let’s look at what rabies is, how dogs get rabies, symptoms to look out for, and what you can do to protect your precious pooch.


  1. What is rabies? How do dogs get rabies?
  2. How can you tell if your dog has rabies?
  3. Diagnosing and treating rabies in dogs
  4. How to prevent rabies in dogs
  5. The secret weapon every pet parent needs to have
  6. FAQ

What is rabies? How do dogs get rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease affecting all mammals. This means it’s zoonotic and can also be transmitted to humans. Almost all dogs that contract rabies will die. By the time the symptoms begin to show, the disease will have progressed too far, and death is almost certain.

The rabies virus in dogs is usually contracted from another animal. Because vaccines are common in most countries, the animal that spreads the disease is unlikely to be another dog. In fact, most cases are contracted from skunks, bats, and weasels. The infected animal (also known as the reservoir) bites the dog, and the saliva carries the virus into the body.

From here, the rabies virus enters the peripheral nervous system and begins to reproduce. The disease will spread until it reaches the salivary glands, where it can be easily passed on to the next potential reservoir for the virus.

The virus must pass from one mammal directly to another and cannot survive for long outside of a living host.

How can you tell if your dog has rabies?

As mentioned, by the time you spot the symptoms, chances are really good that the disease has progressed to a very serious state. The initial symptoms come on gradually and stealthily and include fever and a decrease in energy and appetite.

After the first four days, symptoms usually progress quickly to include difficulty breathing, excessive salivation resulting from difficulty swallowing, seizures, weakness, lameness, and breathing issues.

While it isn’t always possible to be with your dog every minute of every day, having an interactive pet camera allows you to check in on your pup at any point in your day from wherever you are. Not only is this a convenient way to check in on your best pal, especially when you’re worried about their health, but it’s also a great way to interact with your doggo using the two-way audio and, in some models, the treat dispenser.

Rabies has two distinct forms: furious and paralytic, and affected dogs can have either or even both. In the case of furious rabies, dogs can become aggressive and unpredictable. Hallucinations are also possible. Violent seizures precede death.

Read more: Different Dog Behaviors And What They Mean

Conversely, paralytic rabies (also known as dumb rabies) is the typical picture of rabies. Muscular paralysis can sometimes affect the face resulting in strange facial expressions and inhibiting swallowing, leading to the typical salivating and foaming at the mouth. The illness progresses to a coma, followed by death.

Diagnosing and treating rabies in dogs

Diagnosing rabies in a living animal is not a simple thing. The only conclusive way to diagnose rabies is to test brain tissue from the dog after it has died.

So, vets are left to carefully observe the symptoms and correctly interpret the signs that may indicate a rabies infection.

Rabies is almost always fatal. As such, there are no treatments or ways to manage the disease once symptoms have become noticeable. The closest thing to treatment is isolating the dog so that it cannot spread the virus and, once the disease takes hold, administering humane euthanasia before the symptoms become too devastating.

How to prevent rabies in dogs

This all sounds pretty doom-and-gloom. But the good news is that rabies is entirely preventable. In many countries and most states in the US, you’re required by law to vaccinate your pets against rabies. With a regular vaccine schedule, your dog can be protected from contracting rabies.

Read more: Pet Vaccinations Guide For Cats & Dogs

The first rabies vaccine can be administered to puppies between 12 and 16 weeks old, and thereafter boosters are given at regular intervals – usually every year or every three years.

These vaccines are entirely safe for your dog and very effective in minimizing exposure to the rabies virus. But even when your pet is vaccinated against rabies, it’s a good idea to minimize any risk of exposure.

According to vet research, rabies is a public health issue, and there are laws in place to prevent the spread of this disease. Vaccinations are often required by law, and cases of rabies must be reported to the relevant authorities. If your dog is exposed, it’s likely that you will be required to quarantine your dog and possibly euthanize them.

Contact with rabies can still occur in everyday life, so it’s essential to keep your pet safe by minimizing contact with wildlife. This extends to live animals as well as dead ones that your dog may come upon on their walks.

If you suspect your dog has been exposed to rabies, don’t delay in getting to the vet. The sooner, the better.

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How often do dogs need rabies shots?

The recommended rabies vaccine schedule for dogs can vary from state to state in the US and in different countries around the world. This timing depends on the approved vaccine for your region and can be anything from every year to every three years.

When do puppies get rabies shots? The first rabies vaccine for puppies is given between 12 and 16 weeks of age, and the second follows a year later. After that, you will be required to vaccinate your dog against rabies according to the laws in your region.

Can you get rabies from a dog that has been vaccinated?

It’s not likely to get rabies from a vaccinated dog, but there is still a small chance.

If you are bitten by a dog that has been fully vaccinated, you don’t need to get treated for rabies. If you’re not sure if the dog that bit you is vaccinated, you’ll need to visit your doctor.

You’ll likely get post-exposure prophylaxis, which includes a number of vaccinations and treatments for up to two weeks after the bite.

Can a vaccinated dog get rabies?

It’s highly unlikely that a vaccinated dog will contract rabies. In a very small percentage of cases, it’s believed that some dogs don’t develop the required minimum levels of antibodies to keep the virus at bay. Antibody levels can be measured with a titer test one month after vaccination.

Inadequate antibody levels can occur in older dogs or dogs with a weakened immune response. Typically, a booster dose of the vaccine can resolve this.

When do puppies get their rabies shot?

The first rabies vaccine for puppies is given at three months or before the puppy is four months old.

How much is a rabies shot for a dog?

If you’ve ever wondered how much rabies shots for dogs cost, you’re not alone. Rabies vaccines for dogs cost around $25, but the price can vary from location to location. It’s unlikely it will cost more than $30.

Why is my dog acting weird after rabies vaccination?

Vaccines work by stimulating the immune system, so they can cause your dog to act funny after the vaccine. Usually, vaccine reactions in dogs include a mild fever and some sleepiness, so if your dog is acting weird after his rabies shot, it’s not usually anything to worry about. A lump on your dog after a rabies shot is also common at the site of the injection.

Rabies vaccine reactions in dogs can sometimes cause an adverse reaction which includes soreness, swelling, hives, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.

Is there such a thing as a dog allergic reaction to the rabies vaccine?

Vaccines work by stimulating the immune system, but sometimes, very rarely, the immune system has a very sensitive response to the vaccine. The symptoms of an allergic response to the rabies vaccine can range from skin rash and hives to facial swelling and difficulty breathing.

If you suspect your dog is having an allergic reaction to the rabies vaccine, you’ll need to get them to the vet immediately for emergency treatment.

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