Rabies is a fatal virus that is transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. Humans are vulnerable, as are domestic pets, who may come into contact with the disease through contact with infected raccoons, foxes, skunks, bats or infected domestic animals. Because the virus is responsible for more than 50,000 human and domestic pet deaths worldwide each year, it is imperative that all dog owners have their pet regularly vaccinated against the rabies virus.
Why the Rabies Vaccine is Important
Rabies is transmitted through saliva or mucous membranes, so your dog can contract the virus by being bitten or scratched by any animal who carries or is ill with rabies. While most cases of rabies are communicated from wild animals, outdoor cats are highly susceptible to the virus and may share rabies with your indoor pets. Be sure to vaccinate your cat, and keep her indoors to reduce the chance of rabies contamination in your home.
Having your Puppy Vaccinated
[Each state](https://www.avma.org/Advocacy/StateAndLocal/Pages/rabies-vaccination.aspx) has its own requirements regarding the scheduling of rabies vaccinations, but most puppies should receive their first dose of the rabies vaccine between 12 to 16 weeks of age. This is about the time her mother's immunity wears off, and she becomes vulnerable to the virus. The vaccine lasts a year and is administered in a single dose. Follow up vaccinations are required at regular intervals, as mandated by the state.
Though highly unlikely, your puppy may experience an adverse reaction to the rabies vaccine. If she appears to be having trouble breathing, is staggering, loses coordination, becomes weak, has unusually pale gums, or loses consciousness, contact your veterinarian. Less serious reactions include lethargy or soreness around the injection spot. Call your vet if you are worried about any noticeable post-vaccine reaction in your puppy.
Your dog will receive his first rabies booster a year after his initial vaccine. Though booster vaccines are recommended once each year, some states only require pets to receive a booster vaccine every two or three years. Check with your veterinarian to determine the state-mandated vaccination schedule for your dog.
Vaccinations After Rabies Exposure
If your dog is not vaccinated or is behind in her vaccinations and is bitten by a wild animal, you may have the option of euthanizing your pet or putting her into a six-month period of quarantine, where she can be observed by a veterinary professional. There is no cure for rabies, and if she is found to have the virus, she will need to be put down. Assuming she does not develop symptoms after five months, your vet will vaccinate her approximately a month prior to releasing her from quarantine.
Symptoms of Rabies:
Symptoms of rabies may not show until up to six weeks after the virus has been transmitted in your dog, when the rabies reaches her brain. They usually appear in two to three distinct phases:
During the prodomal phase of rabies, which lasts between two to three days, your dog may appear anxious, nervous, standoffish and feverish. She may lick her bite wound repeatedly.
Some pets enter a paralytic stage roughly two to four days after rabies symptoms first appear. Your dog may begin to salivate and have trouble swallowing. Her facial muscles may become slack, her jaw may drop and her breath may become labored. She may begin to choke or suffer respiratory failure and die.
Within a day or two of her first symptoms, your dog may enter the furious phase, where she will become extremely irritable, restless or vicious. She may pace back and forth and seem unable to settle herself. Over the course of one to seven days, she will become disoriented, begin having seizures and eventually die.
Vaccinating your dog on schedule is the most effective way to ensure she does not contract the rabies virus.