Many years ago when I was still a newly qualified vet and was still living up in the North, I received a call from a client who needed me to check on his dog at their home as the dog was not eating and “acting really strange”. Upon arriving at their house, I saw his dog (it was a full grown male Siberian Husky) chained by the yard, seemed to have no bodily coordination and sense of conscious bodily control (like the infected people in the movie Train to Busan). Its eyes were glassy so I couldn’t tell if the dog was able to recognize our presence or not.
At that moment I have already suspected rabies and asked the owner if his dog was immunized with anti-rabies vaccine and if any stray dog had come across his dog by the yard. The owner said that his dog was not given anti-rabies vaccine and that there was a stray dog that came by the yard about two weeks ago and actually bit his dog.
Just then the dog made its last effort to struggle, with mouth open and eyes rolling wildly, the dog kept pulling on the chain while at the same time obviously not able to breath normally. After which, the dog was subdued and started to die just before our very eyes.
I wasn’t able to do a single thing to help that dog and I couldn’t imagine if somebody got bitten during that afternoon. It was a probable case of a rabid dog dying before my eyes and it was one of the few chances I had to actually see a dog infected with rabies and how it died. This wouldn’t have happened if the dog had been vaccinated. I was not able to save the dog from dying, but the experience gave me a deeper understanding about rabies and gave me a feeling that “rabies is real” and that it is a serious animal and public health concern.
We have heard stories about rabies and have heard about the dread of this disease but many still do not fully understand this disease condition. Myths about rabies are still believed to be true and a lot of people still go to the “mananandok” whenever somebody got bitten.
The purpose of this blog post is to provide simple, easy to understand information about rabies from a vet’s perspective. These are very common questions about this disease and their answers so that pet owners will be guided on how to protect their pets and themselves from rabies.
What Causes Rabies?
Rabies is caused by a virus (Lyssavirus) whose natural hosts are warm-blooded animals (this includes us, humans). The most commonly affected species of animals in the Philippines are dogs and cats, although other domestic animals like cattle and horses can also be affected. In the wild, bats are also considered carriers of rabies.
What Happens to Dogs and Cats With Rabies?
The reason why rabid animals behave as they do is because rabies virus travels through the nerves inside the body. It progresses inside the body until it ultimately reaches the brain. From then on the virus is shed through the saliva and this is the time when infected animals show the most recognizable signs of rabies such as pica (eating of non-nutritional objects such as stone, concrete, dirt, etc.), disorientation, aggression, changes in tone of bark, inability to swallow, and foaming of the mouth (due to paralysis).
Two Forms Of Rabies:
- Furious Form – Characterized by very obvious behavioral changes, including aggression to humans and other animals or any moving object. These infected animals attack and seek out victims by roaming from place to place. This is the classic form of rabies.
- Paralytic Form – also known as the dumb form, this is characterized by general weakness, loss of coordination, and paralysis. Infected animals also show sudden changes in behavior. Dogs that have been usually friendly and outgoing may suddenly go into hiding in the dark.
How is Rabies Transmitted?
Rabies is transmitted from animal to animal or animals to humans through the animal’s saliva. When an infected dog bites another dog or a human, its saliva is deposited into the bite wound and so this begins the infection with rabies.
Can I Get Rabies From Being Scratched By My Dog Or Cat?
Again, only animals with rabies can transmit rabies. If your pet is rabies-free, you cannot have rabies from being scratched by your pet. But to answer the question above, yes, one can be infected with rabies from rabid dogs or cats because these animals may also lick their paws, transmitting saliva into the scratch wounds.
Do All Dogs and Cats Have Rabies?
Although all dogs and cats can be infected with rabies, it is not true that all of them carry rabies. An animal has to get bitten by a rabid animal first in order to contract rabies. It is also not true that puppies have “stronger levels of rabies” in their saliva as believed by many. This is a myth.
How Do I Prevent My Pets From Contracting Rabies?
Rabies can be easily prevented through vaccination. Puppies and kittens can be vaccinated as early as three months of age. In the Philippines, annual vaccination against rabies is recommended. Fortunately, at Marikina City, the strict drive to prevent stray dogs from roaming the streets plays a huge role in the control of rabies cases in the city.
Lastly, remember to talk to your vet about it. Vets incorporate rabies vaccine with the core vaccination program needed by your pet and could give you important advice on how to prevent other diseases that may affect your pet. Also, the city government of Marikina conducts pet registration and annual vaccination programs against rabies every month of August at a very minimal fee.