Early Symptoms of Rabies in Dogs

By Jane Meggitt

While state laws don't mandate vaccinations for dogs, there's one exception. Most states require that dogs are current on their rabies vaccines. Municipalities usually require proof of vaccination before issuing a dog license. There's no cure for rabies. Once a dog begins displaying rabies symptoms, he'll die within 10 days. Although a dog can harbor the rabies virus for months, symptoms all begin and end within that 10-day period, with no absolute time frame for when one stage ends and another starts.

First Symptoms

The first symptoms of rabies, known as the prodromal stage, primarily involves behavioral changes. The dog's personality turns around 180 degrees. Friendly dogs become aggressive, and shy dogs are suddenly friendly. The dog might constantly scratch at the original bite site. Other early symptoms include appetite loss, restlessness, vomiting and anxiety. This earliest stage lasts between one and four days.

Furious Rabies

Furious rabies, the next stage of rabies, occurs from the second day of symptoms onward. This is the classic "mad dog" form of rabies, in which the animal becomes extremely aggressive. There's no doubt something is seriously wrong with him. The affected dog loses all fear, and goes on the attack against people and other animals. He also might devour anything that crosses his path, whether it's edible or not. If the dog is crated or in a pen, he may attack the cage or fencing. Not all dogs go through the furious phase.

Paralytic Rabies

Symptoms of paralytic rabies sound like the stage: paralysis, with death resulting when his breathing muscles no longer function. Also known as dumb rabies, the dog can no longer make noises because his larynx is paralyzed. This is also the stage at which "foaming at the mouth" occurs, because laryngeal paralysis means the animal can no longer swallow. The entire process from the beginning of the paralytic stage to death takes between two and four days.

Sudden Death

Some dogs might exhibit few, if any, signs of rabies before keeling over and dying. If your dog dies suddenly, wasn't up to date on his rabies vaccine and spent a lot of time outside -- especially if there was any evidence over the previous year that he'd suffered a bite -- call your veterinarian regarding brain testing for the rabies virus. If your dog is bitten by a suspected rabid animal and is current on his vaccinations, your vet should give him a booster shot. Depending on state law, he might require quarantine for a certain period. If your dog isn't current on his rabies vaccination and is bitten, state law might require euthanization or a prolonged period of quarantine, at your expense.