Can a dog showing clinical signs of rabies be cured?

April 13, 2012

Rabies is one of the most dreaded viruses. This is a fatal viral disease that causes one person to expire every ten minutes all over the world. In 2006, over 45,000 people have to undergo post exposure treatments. Fortunately, through education programs and active vaccinations, this concern was eradicated in United States and in some European countries. However, in other parts of the world especially in 3rd world countries human deaths from rabies are still high. This virus affects warm blooded animals thus wild and domesticated animals and humans will not be spared. Because we are a race of dog and cat lovers, the incidence of exposure to rabies is high.

Rabies is commonly transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The virus is also transmitted when an open wound, the eye or the mouth comes in contact with infected saliva. Only few people survived rabies after intensive medical treatment but most are noted to have permanent neurological damage. Exposure to rabies is one of the concerns of dog owners as when the pet is infected and shows rabies clinical signs, death is the only option… rabies cannot be cured.

Rabies is a highly contagious disease that attacks the nervous system. Once the virus is transmitted, it will multiply at the bitten area and will move to the brain through the nerves. The incubation period is variable but generally it would take two to eight weeks for the virus to spread from the site of infection to the central nervous system. From the brain and the spinal cord, the virus would spread rapidly to the salivary gland. The virus in the saliva will enable an infected dog to infect other animals as well as humans.

Rabies is a rather slow moving disease but it shows predictable symptoms. Symptoms will be noticed when the virus caused the inflammation and the destruction of the nerves. An infected dog would go through three phases in the course of the disease. In the prodromal phase, the dog will constantly worry the bite site, can have fever and have a poor appetite. Behavioral changes such as anxiety, depression and nervousness will be noticed. A usually friendly dog would manifest an aggressive behavior and a tendency to bite while one that is usually hostile would be docile and even affectionate. This phase usually lasts for 2 to 3 days before progressing to the furious phase. The phase is also called the “mad dog syndrome” as the infected animal would have the tendency to attack anything. The dog would growl and bark constantly, would have unaccountable urge to eat anything including inedible things. During this stage, the dog will be noticed to be ultra responsive to visual and auditory stimuli so that it would start to be restless and vicious. Because of the tendency to roam, a caged dog would try to destroy the enclosure to escape confinement. After about 4 days in this phase the infected dog will enter the paralytic phase. Paralysis that usually starts from bitten part will develop and progress to the jaw, throat and to the chewing muscles causing the change in the bark of the dog, drooling and foaming at the mouth. Once paralysis has spread to the other parts of the body, the dog becomes depressed, enters a coma and will expire because of respiratory paralysis.

There is no treatment for a dog that starts to show clinical signs of rabies. The only humane way of sparing the pet from the effects of this disease is through euthanasia. Death is the only option for rabid dogs to prevent the virus from spreading to other animals and to humans as well.

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