Symptoms of Rabies in Dogs And What to Do If Your Dog Gets Bitten?

If you’re a history geek, note that the very first record of rabies dates back to 2000 B.C. At some point, it was also called “mad dog,” and rightly so, as you will soon find out.

Fortunately, rabies cases in the U.S. have declined since the 1970s, with only 1 to 3 cases reported annually from the years 2008-2017 per the Center of Disease Control and Prevention or the CDC.

Incidence of rabies in the U.S. differs with each state depending on rabies vaccination laws as well as the animal population in the area.

Wondering how rabies is contracted? It’s an infectious disease that can be transferred by a rabid animal through infected saliva that gets into bite wounds and other injuries such as small tears, scratches, or gashes.

It’s found in almost every place around the globe, except in some countries like Japan and Great Britain which have stringent laws to prevent rabies.

Common carriers would be warm-blooded animals that live in the wild, such as raccoons, coyotes, foxes, and skunks. However, domesticated animals like dogs, cats, horses, and cattle are not discounted. They can be carriers, too. 

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘rabies?’ The word itself can instill fear in many. A mental picture I have of it is from movie trailers I’ve watched. One was titled ‘Cujo’, from 1983, and the other was ‘Rabies’, from 2010. I’m lucky enough to have never come face to face with the disease in real life, whether from my dogs or from anyone I knew.

So, if you’re imagining a dog rushing at you, fangs bared, glaring eyes, a mouth foaming and dripping with saliva, you and I are pretty much in the same zone of fear, an absolute nightmare! Surprisingly, I learned that a rabid dog doesn’t always act this way. Some appear calm. You curious now?

Read on!

Stages Symptoms of Rabies in Dogs

1.   The prodromal stage

This is the first phase and lasts 1-3 days. This could also be a mind-boggling phase for you (and your dog), so,you should be on the lookout for any of the symptoms below:

  • Exhibition of sudden violent behavior in a dog that’s otherwise very calm
  • A tendency to hide or seek solitude
  • A tendency to becomes upset, snap or bark loudly when being approached
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased frequency in sexual arousal

2.    The furious stage

It’s what you and I are familiar with. This phase lasts up to a week after contraction. The symptoms at this stage are more advanced and include any or all of the following:

  • Restlessness
  • Excitement
  • The tendency to snap at anything that moves
  • Aggressiveness
  • Fearlessness in the face of natural enemies
  • A change in vocalizations
  • Uncontrollable desire to eat anything, including dirt and rocks

At this stage, your dog may display an intense dislike for other dogs or animals, leading to extreme aggressiveness. After violent attacks, your dog can be reduced to a state of extreme exhaustion, causing it to collapse.

Moreover, listlessness is also a common symptom. Your dog would want to get away and run great distances. It can do so without further harm to anyone if left to its own devices. It’ll eventually return home and collapse in exhaustion after its escapade. However, if someone gets too close to a dog going through the furious stage, things may beome violent.

After a brief period of violence, your dog could go back to its previous behavior.

You should never attempt to calm a strange aggressive dog. Call the authorities so that you remain safe and the dog can be removed safely, without becoming injured or injuring someone else.

The same goes for handling your dog. If you have any suspicions of your dog contracting rabies, contact the authorities in your area.

Can your dog still get rabies after being vaccinated? Absolutely! If your dog’s vaccine isn’t up to date, the pet will have to be quarantined and observed for at least 10 days in order to identify potential symptoms. If rabid symptoms are observed, the dog may have to be euthanized as mandated by some states so that its brain tissue can be analyzed.

3.    Dumb or paralytic stage

This is where a dog’s motor neurons are damaged, hence the name of the stage. The pet may bump into walls, display uncoordinated motor skills, and reflexes such as swallowing and breathing may become difficult, causing the dog to drool constantly. 

Not all dogs go through all three stages, though. Some can  go from the prodromal stage straight to the paralytic stage. If that’s the case, the issue could be mistaken for a neurological disorder rather than rabies.

While you’re trying to figure out if your dog suffers from rabies or note, you could become highly exposed to the infection as well. Therefore, it is important to keep yourself safe at all times. Do not allow your dog to lick any open wound you have, as rabies could end up being transmitted to you.

Is there a way to confirm whether your dog is suffering from a neurological condition or rabies? Unfortunately, the only way to know is to have pieces of its brain analyzed, and that means it’ll have to be euthanized.

This last one for sure is an ending you wouldn’t wish for your dog.

What Do You Do if Your Dog Gets Bitten by Another Dog or Animal?

No matter how well-trained your dog is, chances are, it could still be injured by another dog or animal, whether the attack is provoked or not. No matter how hard you try, you can never be prepared the way you’d like to for such a situation.

I have to admit it is a horrifying situation to be in. My American bulldog was once attacked by a ferocious chihuahua while we were out walking. I thought the chihuahua was friendly at first, because it was quickly running towards us. But then, it began snapping at my dog’s heels.

If it had all boiled down to each dog’s size, mine should have had the greater advantage. But no! That little beast kept at it until my dog had a mind to bite the living daylights out of him. I didn’t appreciate that I got pulled around. Their angry growls were enough to set my sweat glands in motion. No exercise needed.

The last thing I wanted at that point was for my dog to get a chunk out of that infuriating chihuahua. I was just so relieved that the owner came to our rescue. If you’re in the same hair-raising situation and your dog gets bitten, here’s what you can do before bringing it to a vet:

1.    Bring your dog to a safe place.

Remove it from that scary situation if you can. Gently tug on its leash if it has one and allow it to walk away. This would be a good chance for you to observe how it walks and if it has other injuries.

Be very cautious about carrying the pet. Even if you know your dog very well, pain can make it bite you. We wouldn’t want both of you in the hospital.

2.    Get as much information as you can about the other dog or animal

Talk to the owner of the other dog and get as many details as you can, such as how long ago the other dog was vaccinated, how old it is, or if it suffers from any medical condition. Note where the incident took place and any occurrence surrounding the bite, like if there were loud or sudden noises, children playing, or bullying.

3.    Keep your dog from licking its wound if it has one

Try to distract it or make your own version of a cone so that you prevent further infection.

4.    Gently clean the wound

If it’s possible and your dog allows you to, put on a pair of gloves and gently wash the affected area.

A visit to the vet will complement the steps you may have already taken, and a more thorough check of the wounds will be in order.

Make sure you follow the doctor’s orders to care of your dog.

Can You Protect Your Dog from Contracting Rabies? 

By all means! Immunization isn’t the only thing that’ll keep your dog safe. Here are some simple things you can do. Don’t be fooled by their simplicity, because they have enormous benefits:

1.    First off, get your dog vaccinated

I can’t stress this enough. How often should vaccines be administered? Your dog should be immunized between 3-6 months. A booster shot should follow a year afterwards. Succeeding booster shots should be administered every 1-3 years by a licensed veterinarian.

2.    When you’re out walking your dog, make sure it’s on a leash

This gives you control of its movements and will allow you to keep it safe if the need arises. You’d also want to make sure your dog isn’t somewhere it’s not supposed to be.

Depending on what dog breed you have, some dogs like to retrieve items. More territorial dogs may not be pleased with that, though.

One other interesting fact is that males, as opposed to females, are prone to rabies because of their instinct to roam.

3.    Enclosures should be well-constructed

Aside from them being safe for your dogs, your enclosures should be steady enough to withstand jumping and pushing.

4.    Lastly, avoid welcoming wild animals into your home

Yes, I know it’s a blow for the soft-hearted. But it will do your dog lots of good not to bring strange animals into your house, especially if you have no experience caring for them. Contacting the proper authorities will always be a better choice.


As pet owners, you have the responsibility of keeping your dogs safe by having them vaccinated for rabies. It’s one of your best chances to keep them alive as long as possible. Once contracted, this disease is incurable and will undoubtedly lead to death.

Your puppies can be vaccinated as early as 3-6 months. Succeeding vaccinations should be religiously followed. If you have several dogs, it’s best to keep a log of when they should be brought to the vet. Trust me, your dogs would love to hang around with you for as long as they can.

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