How to Check a Pet for Rabies

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Rabies is a contagious and dangerous disease and is usually transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. There are three stages of rabies: the prodromal phase, the furious phase and the paralytic phase. Animals in each phase display unique symptoms that can help you determine whether or not your pet has rabies. Because these symptoms may also be present with other diseases, the only certain way to diagnose rabies is to have a veterinarian to conduct a direct fluorescent antibody test on the animal's brain tissue. This test cannot be performed on a live animal. At the veterinary clinic, tests can also be performed on the serum, spinal fluid and saliva of a live animal or human suspected to have contracted rabies. Though not 100 percent reliable, these tests can help to determine treatment for humans and animals. If your pet exhibits some of the symptoms of one or more of the phases of rabies, you should take it to a professional veterinarian for diagnosis.


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Prodromal Phase

1 - If your pet is a dog, listen to your dog's bark. A change of tone in bark that lasts for two to three days is a sign of the first stage of rabies.


2 - Monitor the amount of food that your pet eats. Loss of appetite occurs in the first stages of rabies.

3 - Monitor your pet for fever or subtle changes in behavior.


Furious Phase or Mad Dog Syndrome

1 - Continue to monitor your pet's appetite. In this second phase, the appetite will change again and your pet will begin to eat anything, including inedible objects. This phase usually lasts for two to four days.


2 - Listen to the sounds your pet makes. This phase is often marked by constant growling or barking.

3 - Check your pet's pupils and facial expressions. The furious phase is marked by dilated pupils, disorientation and anxious or alert facial expressions.


4 - Monitor your pet's behavior. One of the most obvious signs of rabies is aggressive behavior in an animal. Animals in the second stage of rabies may not show fear of natural predators and may attack moving objects, other animals and people.

5 - Watch for physical signs of seizures, roaming and trembling.


Paralytic Stage

1 - Watch for signs of choking. This often begins the paralytic stage, which can last for two to four days.

2 - Monitor your pet's ability to swallow. The pet may experience drooling or foaming at the mouth, which is a classic sign of rabies.


3 - Check your pet's jaw and throat for signs of paralysis. A dog's lower jaw may drop during this stage.

4 - Check for signs of paralysis in other parts of the body. During this phase, the paralysis usually begins in the jaw and throat and moves to the rest of the body. The animal may then slip into a coma and die.


Warnings: If you suspect that your animal has rabies, take it to the vet immediately. Rabies is contagious and rabid animals can become very dangerous very quickly so keep children and other pets away from an animal you suspect to be rabid. If you are bitten by an animal you suspect to be rabid, go to the doctor immediately.

By Miranda Sinclair

Animal Health Channel: Rabies
Pet Place: Animal Bites, Rabies and Quarantine in Dogs
Animal Health Channel
Pet Place

About the Author
Based in Portland, Ore., Miranda Sinclair has been writing professionally since 2009. She holds a B.A. in English and theater from the University of Oregon, as well as an M.A. in English and certificate in teaching college composition from San Francisco State University. Sinclair works as a tutor and teacher of writing.