Rabies or hydrophobia in pets

Rabies or hydrophobia is a fatal disease transmitted by a virus of the Rhabdoviridae family that affects the Central Nervous System, causing acute encephalitis with a 100% fatality rate. This disease is a viral zoonosis so it can affect humans.

Rabies is present on almost every continent, with the majority of deaths in Africa and Asia. In humans, most deaths from rabies occur in children.

Transmission of rabies

Rabies attacks mammals , both domestic and wild, including humans , and is spread by contact with the saliva and secretions of infected animals (through bites or scratches). It can also be transmitted on rare occasions when the saliva of a rabid animal comes into contact with a wound or cut on the skin, nose, eyes, mouth of a person or animal. The virus travels from the wound to the brain, where it causes swelling or inflammation that causes symptoms of the disease.

Incubation period:

The incubation time of the virus varies according to the infected species and the distance between the wound through which the virus penetrates and the brain, that is , a bite on the forearm will produce symptoms first than a bite on the ankle. In dogs, rabies symptoms usually appear between 3 and 8 weeks after infection; in less common cases there have been longer incubation periods, up to 6 months, all this also depends on the distance to the brain.

In cats this period can be somewhat slow in old cats, it depends on the amount of virus inoculated. The incubation period can range from 8 to 9 days to over a year, although most cats show symptoms within 4 to 6 weeks after the bite.

In humans, symptoms appear 3 to 6 weeks after becoming infected. As in the case of dogs, long incubation periods have occurred sporadically.

Cases have also been documented in which the transmission of the virus has been through aerosol particles floating in the air. These cases are rare and have only occurred in caves where many infected bats lived.

Although the dog is the most common animal to carry the disease and in turn is the main transmitter of this, once any mammal such as cats, ferrets, humans, etc. is infected by the virus they can carry it and transmit the disease through normal transmission routes. Transmission is also possible through wild animals such as bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes, since as mammals they can also carry the virus and can transmit it to other mammals in the environment. Skunks can become asymptomatic carriers. In some places, cats are more frequent carriers than dogs.

Rabies also affects cattle, although it is not common, it has also been reported in horses, goats, sheep and pigs.

Rabies does not resist for long outside a living body, it is estimated that this virus can only last up to 24 hours in the corpse of an infected animal, for this reason the bodies of these animals are incinerated to avoid possible infections in that period of weather.

Symptoms of rabies in animals

  • Fever
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Excessive drooling
  • Aggressiveness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Isolation
  • Difficulty to swallow
  • Tambaleo
  • Depression
  • Mutilation themselves
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Seizures

In cats rabies is recognized by a change in vocalizations, many times there is a change in the voice. It presents a characteristic restlessness, wild look, blank and anxious.

In some animals the symptoms of rabies usually present in 3 phases, although an animal that is infected will not always present all phases.

Prodromal phase : This phase usually lasts 2 to 3 days, fever, anxiety, nervousness and voluntary isolation occur. Friendly animals tend to be suspicious, skittish, or irritable. Aggressive and wild animals can become friendly and docile. For this reason, we warn people if they come across a wild animal, do not approach it even if it looks submissive and friendly.

Angry phase : This phase lasts from 1 to 7 days, occurs very little and is known as furious rage, it is characterized by the fact that the animal becomes very irritable and increases sensitivity to light and sound. The dog remains active most of the time, it does not rest. Animals want to bite and scratch everything around them and as the disease progresses they become disoriented and have seizures. Some do not survive this phase and eventually die.

Paralytic phase : This phase can appear after the prodromal or the furious phase, it does not appear in all cases and is known as silent rabies , paralysis of the neck and head muscles occurs, which makes the dog unable to swallow so begins to salivate constantly, the mouth remains open at all times as the lower part of the jaw becomes paralyzed. The paralysis affects the diaphragm muscle causing the death of the animal due to respiratory failure. In cats many times there is a fulminant picture where the disease presents with a generalized paralysis, coma and finally death within a period of 10 days.

An animal that has contracted rabies has no chance of being cured , it will die irretrievably after going through some or all of the phases of the disease.

It is important to isolate infected animals from the rest to avoid possible infections.

Diagnosis of rabies

The diagnosis of rabies is made based on an analysis of the nervous tissue of the brain,  this means that this diagnosis can only be made once the animal has died. A special test, called immunofluorescence, is used.

Other techniques have been tried to diagnose the disease in early stages, without the need to end the life of the animal. Among these techniques is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), but for the moment the exact diagnosis involves the death of the animal to analyze its brain.

Treatment of rabies

Once symptoms have occurred there is no treatment for rabies, infected animals are destined for death.

Rabies prevention

The best way to prevent it is through vaccination, animals should be vaccinated since they are puppies and applying annual boosters. Check with your veterinarian the vaccination schedule.

There are preventive vaccines for people who are at higher risk of contracting this virus, such as veterinarians, biologists, dog trainers, and others. These preventive vaccines reduce the risk of infection when the person is bitten.

If you are bitten by an animal, you should clean the wound well with soap and water, and go immediately to a health center. You will need a doctor to do a thorough cleaning of the wound and remove any foreign objects. Most of the time, sutures should not be used for animal bite wounds. If deemed necessary, the person who was bitten will receive a series of preventive vaccinations before symptoms appear.

Help control rabies by following these steps:

  • Ask your vet to vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, horses, etc.
  • Keep your animals’ vaccination schedule up to date. Your Veterinarian will advise you on the most appropriate program in terms of the frequency of vaccination required in your area.
  • Reduce the possibility of exposing your animals to rabies by keeping them on your property and do not allow them to roam freely so only take them out with collars.
  • Spaying or neutering your pets can reduce the tendency for possible escapes and will help reduce the birth of unwanted animals which, while wandering in the street, can be infected by this virus and transmit it to other animals.
  • Do not leave food scraps or pet food in the yard, as it can attract wild or stray animals.
  • Wild animals should not be kept as pets. Not only can they be illegal but they can also be a potential rabies threat to people and other animals.
  • If you observe that a wild animal acts strangely, notify the Animal Health authorities of your city.
  • Secure your home so that you can prevent bats from nesting and coming into contact with people.
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Sherry Fluharty, is an Activist, animal activist, community manager, and blogger at Tom Cat Wiki in order to make people aware of the responsible ownership of pets. And in charge of writing content and responsible for the project.