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Rabid Wildlife: Protecting Rover from Rabies

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Rabid Wildlife: Protecting Rover from Rabies

Rabies is a FATAL, untreatable condition which can infect ALL warm-blooded animals including humans! This deadly infection has been documented for thousands of years with symptoms mirroring the storylines of horror movies and novels alike. Despite advances in modern medicine, no cure is available for rabies; cases are fatal once symptoms of disease are apparent. Learn about the rabies virus, symptoms of rabies in wildlife, and prevention strategies to help protect your pet.

Rabies is a virus that is usually spread by infected mammals biting naive mammals. Nervous tissue and saliva contain the infectious virus particles- ingestion of infected tissue may also lead to virus spread  (eg. a naive animal eats the carcass and nervous tissue from an animal that recently died of rabies). Rabies virus does not survive well in an environment outside of a mammal and virus is not spread through blood, urine, or feces.  A timeline from infection to development of symptoms can be highly variable, ranging from several weeks to several months.

The best protection for humans and pets from rabies is a well-vaccinated pet population. In areas of high incidence of infected wildlife, vaccination of wildlife has also been attempted with some success. People with the highest risk of infection (those in frequent contact with pets or wildlife) can also be vaccinated.

The most common wildlife rabies carriers in North America are: raccoon, fox, bat, skunk, coyote, feral cats, and other wild canid species. Both furious (aggressive manic-type zombies) and paralytic (lethargic, comatose type) manifestations of disease in these animals is possible depending on the species infected and stage of infection. Symptoms of rabies generally progresses through 3 stages as virus infects the brain and nervous system:

  1. Prodromal stage– behavior changes and abnormal vocalization
  2. Furious stage– aggressive unprovoked attacks, hallucinations, lack of fear of humans
  3. Paralytic stage–  weakness, drooling, stumbling, inability to eat or drink

Once symptoms present, an animal’s disease will progress and death will ensue at or before 10 days time. Not all animals will display all stages of progressing infection.

Tips to Protect your Dog from Rabies:

  • Follow local regulations for rabies vaccination requirements on all your pets
  • Do NOT feed strays or wildlife. This encourages an unsafe interaction with potential disease carrying animals
  • Report suspicious animals to local animal control
  • Wear gloves and flush any new bite wounds on your pet immediately for 15 minutes with water and mild soap. Following this immediate first aid step, schedule an appointment to have your pet examined by a veterinarian for further care
  • Have a veterinarian or animal control officer euthanize potentially rabid animals for testing or for safe quarantine and observation
  • Remove dead animal carcasses from property to prevent pets from ingesting potential diseased tissues

Unfortunately, the best test for confirmation of rabies diagnosis involves diagnostic testing performed on brain tissue, making death or euthansia a requirement. If suspicious wildlife can be safely captured and submitted for rabies testing, this is the ideal way to determine if an exposed pet requires additional safety precautions. Additional procedures of an exposed pet may include extensive quarantine time, a series of vaccination boosters, or euthanasia.  Check with local animal control, the health department, or your veterinarian for more information on local laws and recommendations following potential rabies exposure in pets. 


Amanda Burow, D.V.M. (Dr. B), is a graduate of Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Burow’s patient list includes hunting dogs of all varieties, as well as several field trial dogs and full time sporting guide dogs. In addition to practicing general veterinary medicine, she has special interest in the areas of preventive care, emergency medicine, and dermatology. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and on the lake, staying active, reading, and spending time with family and friends.

Mud River is proud to share these tips from Dr. B with our customers. Keep in mind it is best to work with your local veterinarian to determine the needs for your animals.