Unless you live in Hawaii, the only rabies-free state, you may have to say Aloha to your dog for 10 days if he recently bit somebody. While you're at it, you can also say Mahalo, because things could have been much worse. Unvaccinated dogs who bite humans may be euthanized immediately or placed in a lengthy quarantine at the owner's expense depending on your local laws.
If your dog recently bit someone, there are much bigger concerns than the bite wound itself and the risks for bacterial infection. Rabies is a viral disease that can infect all mammals and can be transmitted from dogs to humans. Because there is no cure for rabies, and it's almost always fatal, it's imperative to take measures to protect the injured person from any risks by letting that person know he needs preventative vaccinations immediately. Although your dog may have been vaccinated against rabies, rare cases of vaccinated dogs contracting rabies have been reported.
If your dog is home for most of the day and looks healthy, you may wonder why he must be quarantined. The fact is, unless your dog is supervised 24 hours a day, there are still chances he may have had contact with a rabid bat, skunk, fox or raccoon when he was sent outside to potty. Once bitten, the rabies virus travels to the brain where it multiplies. The virus is then shed in the saliva and introduced to people or other mammals through a bite, or more rarely, through an open cut.
The main purpose of the 10-day quarantine is to keep your dog under observation. Once the virus is in the animal's saliva, the animal will show the first recognizable signs of the disease within a few days. This 10-day period allows sufficient time for the bitten person to receive preventive treatment should the dog appear to be rabid. Depending on your dog's vaccination status, your dog can be kept under quarantine at your home or at a designated isolation facility such as an animal control facility or veterinary clinic.
With strict confinement during the 10-day period, any changes in behavior can be readily recorded and your dog is prevented from escaping or getting injured. An unusual personality change is the most consistent sign of rabies. This may include shy or unusually friendly behavior, sluggishness and excitability. As the disease progresses, dogs may develop voice changes, weakness, paralysis in the jaw and throat muscles along with difficulty eating or drinking. At the first signs of disease, the person bitten would receive immediate vaccination and the dog would be humanely destroyed for further testing.
If your dog doesn't show any signs of the disease by the end of the 10 days, then it's safe to assume there's no risk to the bite victim. As much as the quarantine period sounds like a bummer, it ultimately keeps your dog alive. Without quarantine, there is no way to tell if your dog is infected other than by submitting brain tissue for testing, which would require your dog to be put down. Thanks to the quarantine, your dog can survive and the bitten person won't require the expensive and unpleasant series of shots to prevent rabies unnecessarily.
Like it or not, the 10-day quarantine is mandatory. Failure to comply to quarantine requirements might turn out being a costly affair resulting in a fine costing anywhere in between $100 to $1,000. Additionally, depending on where you live, failure to comply with your dog's 10-day quarantine may lead to your personal "quarantine" consisting of a 60-day imprisonment. So play it safe and have your dog vaccinated against rabies; after all, it's the law.
By Adrienne Farricelli
Centers for Disease Control: Rabies
Brown County Health Department: Rabies Quarantine Fact Sheet [PDF]
American Humane Association: Rabies Facts & Prevention Tips
Wisconsin Department of Agriculture: What You Need to Know If Your Cat or Dog Bites Someone
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Rabies
Mahidol University; Real-time PCR Analysis of Dog Cerebrospinal Fluid and Saliva Samples for Ante-Mortem Diagnosis of Rabies; Saengseesom W et al.[PDF]
About the Author
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.