Rabies in dogs signs

Rabies In Dogs Signs; Things You Need To Know Leave a comment

Rabies is a deadly viral disease of dogs and also human beings. This is characterized by the inflammation of the brain and spinal cord in dogs, humans, and other mammals. Dogs are considered the “reservoir” for the virus of rabies. Many owners show curiosity to know about the “Rabies in dogs signs” and all other related facts.

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As you know, this is a zoonotic disease that is the biggest threat for all dog keepers. Basically, rabies is caused by a virus belonging to the “Rhabdoviridae family of viruses. This disease is considered dangerous because of its variable incubation period (signs and symptoms may appear within ten days or take months to years).

In this blog, we will discuss important signs of rabies in dogs under the light of scientific literature and general field experience.

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What Are Key Signs Of Rabies In Dogs?

There is a complex series of signs and symptoms which rabid dogs show, here we have summarized a few key signs and symptoms of rabies. For a better understanding, we have divided the clinical signs into three phase’s i-e prodromal phase (1st phase), Furious phase (2nd phase), and the dumb phase (3rd).

What Are Important Characteristics Of Pro-Dromal Phase?

This is often a short phase that usually lasts for two to three days (maybe variable). In this stage, the observable change in the temperament of the dog occurs. For instance, an active dog becomes shy or disinterested and the silent dog becomes excited.  In short, clinical features of this phase are agitation, anxiety, irritability, and other mild non-specific symptoms.

What Are Important Characteristics Of Furious (2nd) Phase?

The following important clinical features have been observed in the dogs during the furious phase.


This is an important sign that you may observe in your dog. He becomes aggressive quickly even he can break the iron rods of the cage with his teeth without taking care of his teeth. He will show an urge to bite you and the other animals around.  The dog tends to chew the stones, sand, and other inanimate objects (medically known as PICA).

Difficulty in swallowing:

It is another characteristic sign of rabies that can be seen in the final stage of the disease. The rabid dog will experience difficulty in swallowing (medically called Dysphagia). This occurs due to the paralysis of the masseter muscles (muscles that are involved in the normal process of eating, grinding, and other movements of the mouth).  

However, this is also important to keep in mind that, dysphagia could be a non-specific sign as this condition may be observed in traumatic injuries, many neurological and muscular disturbances, and neoplastic conditions. So, it is always important to correlate the proper history of the dog with the other signs and symptoms.

  • It is important to keep in mind that, seizers can also occur in this phase and a dog may die of seizers as well.
  • The furious stage of rabies is also known as the classic “mad dog syndrome”.
  • Hint: This is important to keep in account that the young pups infected with rabies become over playful and tend to bite even on being petted.

What Are The Characteristics Of Dumb Rabies?

 This has been scientifically documented that usually, dogs die of dumb rabies (3rd phase). In this stage, paralysis is usually observed in the jaw, throat, and other muscles of the limbs. The following important clinical features have been observed during this phase:

Excessive drooling saliva:

This is the most important key sign that helps the vets/owners to diagnose rabies in a better way. Foaming saliva (hypersalivation) is observed in rabid dogs. Hint: The foamy saliva will drool down making streaks. This occurs due to paralysis of the throat and the jaw muscles (most commonly lower jaw muscles). Death may also occur due to respiratory collapse in dogs.

  • Keep in mind that, dogs rarely bite in the dumb phase and may become comatose and die. Also, dogs don’t show aggressive behavior in this phase.
  • The major cause of death in this phase is lack of the proper neural and muscular coordination and paralysis.

Quick Overview:

Prodromal phaseFurious phaseDumb phase
Behavioral changes (irritability, excitability shyness, and nervousness)Aggression, tend to bite the inanimate objects, humans, and animals all around. Also known as classical mad dog syndrome. The dog rarely bites, often show dumb behavior, also known as the classical paralytic disease of the dogs.
Short phase 2-3 days. No paralysis occurParalysis and difficulty swallowing may occur during this stage.Death may occur due to progressive paralysis of the muscles and a lack of coordination between the nervous and muscular systems.
The dog may seek solitude or become disinterested in the activities.Loss of fear in dogs occur during the furious phaseDrooling saliva (foamy in nature) due to the paralysis of the throat and jaw muscles.
Loss of appetite may occur in this phase.A dog may die of seizures or paralysis.A dog may go in a coma or die

Recommended Read: What To Do If Your Dog Has A Seizure? What You Need To Know


Rabies is a dangerous disease of humans, dogs, and other mammals. It is a viral disease that occurs due to a bullet shape virus belonging to the Rhabdoviridae family of viruses. There are various stages of rabies and each has its own clinical presentation.

This is highly recommended for all pet keepers to vaccinate their dogs/cats timely (According to the guidelines of the veterinarian, follow the vaccination schedule). Keep in mind, vaccination is the only tool that prevents this disease and protects you and your family from this dreadful disease. Last but not least, if you see any above-mentioned signs or symptoms in your dog, contact your vet immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is hydrophobia associated with rabies in dogs?

This is not necessary, even a common myth. Basically, hydrophobia occurs in rabid human beings. That is the clinical sign to diagnose rabies in humans, not in dogs.

Why monitoring the signs in a dog for ten days is important?

If a dog bites an animal or human, keep it in quarantine for almost ten days. If that dog doesn’t show any clinical signs or stays normal then it is assumed that the dog was not contagious at the time of the bite. This is why the ten-day quarantine period is very much important.

What are important factors in the appearance of clinical signs of rabies in dogs?

The appearance of clinical signs in a dog depends upon the following important factors; for instance, the site of the bite (if the site is nearer to the brain, then the clinical signs will appear soon). The other factor is the amount of rabies virus injected by the bite. The third important factor is the depth or severity of the bite. These all factors contribute to the appearance of the clinical signs and symptoms.

Which signs are common in rabid dogs?

Mostly rabid dogs show nervous signs including hyperexcitability, nervousness, anxiety, poor muscular coordination, and other important neurological complications.

Is rabies a zoonotic disease?

Yes, it is a zoonotic disease that can be easily transmitted to human beings from infected dogs. So, being a pet owner, this must be your top priority to get your pet vaccinated as per the guidelines of the state and your personal vet.

Can my dog show fever in rabies?

Yes, fever may be observed in the initial stages of rabies infection in the dogs along with other signs.


Tepsumethanon, V., Wilde, H. and Meslin, F.X., 2005. Six criteria for rabies diagnosis in living dogs. J Med Assoc Thai88(3), pp.419-422.

Wandeler, A.I., Matter, H.C., Kappeler, A. and Budde, A., 1993. The ecology of dogs and canine rabies: a selective review. Revue scientifique et technique (International Office of Epizootics)12(1), pp.51-71.

Fekadu, M., 1988. Pathogenesis of rabies virus infection in dogs. Reviews of Infectious Diseases10(Supplement_4), pp.S678-S683.

Dhand, N.K., Dorjee, J. and Ward, M.P., 2011. Re-emergence of rabies in dogs and other domestic animals in eastern Bhutan, 2005–2007. Epidemiology & Infection139(2), pp.220-225.

Fekadu, M., Chandler, F.W. and Harrison, A.K., 1982. Pathogenesis of rabies in dogs inoculated with an Ethiopian rabies virus strain. Immunofluorescence, histologic and ultrastructural studies of the central nervous system. Archives of virology71(2), pp.109-126.

Swanepoel, R., Barnard, B.J., Meredith, C.D., Bishop, G.C., Brückner, G.K., Foggin, C.M. and Hübschle, O.J., 1993. Rabies in southern Africa. The Onderstepoort journal of veterinary research60(4), pp.325-346.

Castilho, J.G., De Souza, D.N., Oliveira, R.N., Carnieli Jr, P., Batista, H.B.C.R., Pereira, P.M.C., Achkar, S.M. and Macedo, C.I., 2017. The epidemiological importance of bats in the transmission of rabies to dogs and cats in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, between 2005 and 2014. Zoonoses and public health64(6), pp.423-430.

Clark, K.A., Neill, S.U., Smith, J.S., Wilson, P.J., Whadford, V.W. and McKirahan, G.W., 1994. Epizootic canine rabies transmitted by coyotes in south Texas. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association204(4), pp.536-540.

Warrell, M.J. and Warrell, D.A., 2015. Rabies: the clinical features, management, and prevention of the classic zoonosis. Clinical Medicine15(1), p.78.

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