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How Long Can a Dog Live With Rabies? Vet-Reviewed Risks & Dangers

Written by: Lorre Luther

Last Updated on May 23, 2024 by Dogster Team

aggressive gog with excessive saliva

How Long Can a Dog Live With Rabies? Vet-Reviewed Risks & Dangers

VET APPROVED

Dr. Luqman Javed Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Rabies can affect humans and other mammals as well as dogs, and it is found throughout the world and on every continent, although countries including Australia and the UK are considered rabies-free.

Usually transmitted via bites, rabies can take up to a year before signs begin to show, although they can materialize in as little as 10 days. When animals show signs of rabies though, they cannot be saved. Typically, a dog will die within 7 days of showing the first signs of being rabid, though some may survive to 10 days.

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What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease. It can be found in wildlife but is often found in pet cats and dogs in some countries of the world. The disease is zoonotic and can be transmitted from animals to humans and between different species of animals. It is most often transmitted by bite when the saliva of the original animal gets into the bloodstream of the bitten animal.

dog with rabies
Image Credit: Victoria Antonova, Shutterstock

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Signs

Rabies has several clinical phases, and each phase has its own signs. These phases all begin once the virus reaches a dog’s central nervous system; the time it takes for this to happen depends on several factors, which we will discuss later.

Prodromal Phase

This phase is identified by a change in temperament. Shy dogs become very active, whereas the opposite tends to happen in dogs that are normally active. Likewise, quiet dogs tend to become agitated. It is postulated that these changes occur as the nervous system tries to react to the presence of the virus. This phase lasts 2–3 days.

The prodromal phase is followed by one of two forms: furious rabies and dumb rabies.

Furious Rabies

The dog appears aggressive, very excitable, and displays signs of bizarre behavior, such as eating stones, dirt, and other non-nutritive items (a phenomenon known as pica). Eventually, paralysis sets in, and the dog passes away after a seizure. This is the form most commonly associated with the disease. However, it isn’t the most common manifestation of rabies in dogs.

Dumb Rabies

This is more common in dogs and is very difficult to identify. Signs include slow progressive paralysis of the limbs, facial paralysis, and distortion, and difficulty swallowing. Ultimately, the dog becomes comatose and passes away.

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Diagnosis

Unfortunately, the only way to really know for certain whether a dog is rabid is through a test of brain matter called a direct fluorescent antibody test, and this can only be done after the dog has died.

Important: Behavior changes alone are not a confirmation of rabies.

Prognosis

If a dog is showing clinical signs of rabies, the prognosis is considered grave. However, the situation is different for dogs that get bitten by a rabid animal. These animals are vaccinated and placed under strict quarantine for a period of time determined by local public health regulations. They have a guarded prognosis, however in some jurisdictions the regulations might require that they be euthanized.

dog with overflowing saliva
Image Credit: Anant Kasetsinsombut, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Know When a Dog Has Rabies?

The only clinical test that can be done to determine whether a dog has rabies can only be conducted when the dog has died or is euthanized. Otherwise, a vet will be able to determine how likely it is according to signs and whether they are likely to have been bitten by an infected animal.

How Long Does It Take for Rabies to Affect a Dog?

The incubation period is the amount of time between being bitten and first showing symptoms. This period is usually around 2 weeks in dogs, but it can actually take up to a year for a dog to show the first symptoms. Once signs do occur, the disease spreads quickly, and there is nothing that can be done to help.

The speed at which signs show up depends on the following factors:
  • The site of the bite (the closer the bite is to the spine or brain, the quicker the virus reaches the central nervous system)
  • The severity of the bite
  • The amount of virus injected by the bite itself

Can a Dog Recover From Rabies?

Recovery from rabies isn’t possible, however, the virus can at times be neutralized before it reaches the central nervous system. This is done by injecting an anti-rabies serum to interrupt the progression of the virus before it reaches the spinal cord or brain.

Post-bite vaccination use:
  • If a non-vaccinated dog is bitten by a rabid dog and hasn’t bitten a human, the dog is given a rabies vaccine and placed in strict quarantine (often for months) as determined by legislation set forth by local authorities.
  • If a vaccinated dog is bitten by a rabid dog, the dog is given a booster vaccine and placed in quarantine following guidelines set by local authorities

If there is a high possibility of a dog being exposed to rabies, euthanasia is often the safest policy that is enforced in most places.

Can You Test a Dog for Rabies Without Killing It?

It is possible for an experienced vet to be able to guess whether a dog is likely to have rabies based on its signs, behaviors, and the likelihood of it having been bitten by another infected animal. However, the only clinical test that can be conducted is a direct fluorescent test. This requires the testing of parts of the brain tissue, which can only be collected and tested from a deceased animal.

a vet checking a sick rough collie
Image Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko, Pexels

What Happens if a Dog With Rabies Licks You?

The virus is transmitted from saliva to the bloodstream or mucus membrane. Bites are the most common form of the disease spreading, but if a dog with rabies does lick you and the saliva gets into an open wound or into the mucus membrane in your eyes, nose, or mouth, this will also transmit the disease.

Important: If you think you have been licked or bitten by a rabid animal, wash the site with soap under warm running water for a period of at least 20 minutes before reporting yourself to the nearest hospital, doctor, or clinic.

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Conclusion

Rabies is an ancient virus, and there are written records of it existing from earlier than 2000 BC when Babylonians were forced to pay a fine if their dog gave another animal or person the rabies virus.

Although medicine and science have come a long way since then, there is still no cure for the virus. Vaccinations that protect against rabies do exist, however, and it has been eradicated from some countries in the world. Unfortunately, a dog with rabies will almost always perish as a result of the virus, and once signs show, the dog usually only survives for about a week or so.


Featured Image Credit: Victoria Antonova, Shutterstock

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