Everything You Need To Know About Rabies In Dogs

Rabies, a potentially fatal disease affecting mammals and transmissible to humans, has been officially eradicated in France for several years. Despite this, sporadic cases of rabies are sometimes reported, particularly through the importation of dogs. The legislation surrounding this disease is very important in France. We will detail the characteristics of this disease in dogs.

Everything You Need To Know About Rabies In Dogs

What is rabies?

Rabies is a serious viral disease that affects mammals, including dogs, and humans. It is a zoonosis, caused by the rabies virus, which belongs to the Lyssaviridae family.

The virus, which likes to lodge in the salivary glands, is generally transmitted by the saliva of an infected animal, most often by a bite. Wild animals such as foxes, bats, raccoons and mongooses are common carriers of the virus.

It is a fatal, very serious disease that affects the whole world.

How is the rabies virus caught in dogs?

The rabies virus in dogs is spread mainly through the saliva of an infected animal:

  • Bite or scratch: The most common transmission of rabies is through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. The virus is present in the saliva of the sick animal, and if it enters an open wound, it can infect a new host.
  • Contact with mucous membranes: The virus can also be transmitted if saliva from an infected animal comes into contact with a person's mucous membranes, such as the eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Contact with an open wound: If an animal's saliva hits an open wound on a person's skin, the virus can enter the body.
The virus is not spread through the air, by contact with the feces of the infected animal, or by simple skin contact. However, caution is always advised when dealing with animals that potentially carry the virus.

How to recognize a rabid dog?


The rabies virus affects the central nervous system of mammals. The incubation period is quite long, symptoms appear between 15 and 60 days following the bite. Not all dogs with rabies necessarily exhibit the same symptoms, and the signs may vary:

  1. Behavioral Changes: A rabid dog may show sudden changes in behavior. He can become aggressive, anxious or, conversely, too calm.
  2. Irritability and aggression: Dogs with rabies may suddenly become aggressive, biting without apparent provocation and attacking inanimate objects.
  3. Difficulty swallowing: The presence of rabies can make swallowing difficult. A rabid dog may also exhibit hypersalivation.
  4. Changes in voice: A dog with rabies may make unusual sounds, such as growling, abnormal barking, or whining.
  5. Avoid Water: Some rabid dogs may develop a fear of water and show a reluctance to drink.
  6. Neurological disorders: As the disease progresses, the dog may develop spasms, particularly in the face, then paralysis at the end of the course (= paralytic form).
Rabies symptoms can progress quickly, and once clinical symptoms appear, the disease is usually fatal.

Is dog rabies treatable?

Once rabies symptoms appear in dogs, the disease is always fatal. There is no cure to eliminate the virus from the body.

The best approach to preventing rabies in dogs and other animals is vaccination.

At what age can you get the rabies vaccine?

In dogs, vaccination against rabies can be done from the age of 12 weeks.

The vaccine is compulsory to travel abroad with your dog (even within the European Union), but also to enter French territory. He must also have a passport and be identified by electronic chip. Categorized dogs (so-called “dangerous” dogs according to the law of January 1999) must also be up to date with their anti-rabies vaccination. It is a legal obligation.

Furthermore, vaccination may be required during a stay in a boarding facility to look after your dog, while camping, or at a holiday center with your dog. It is essential for the owner of the animal to inquire beforehand in order to become aware of the internal regulations specific to each establishment.

The rabies vaccine is valid for 21 days after the first injection. Then, the booster must be done every year or every three years depending on the type of vaccine.

Can a vaccinated dog get rabies?

In theory, a dog properly vaccinated against rabies should be protected against this disease. Rabies vaccines for dogs are generally very effective and are one of the most important measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

However, there is a small chance that a vaccinated dog could contract rabies. These cases are extremely rare.

It is important to follow the vaccination schedule recommended by the veterinarian and administer the necessary boosters to maintain adequate protection.

Rabies in humans

Disease transmission

Humans can contract rabies primarily through exposure to rabies virus present in the saliva of an infected animal. Here are some scenarios that could result in the rabies virus being transmitted to humans:

  1. Bite by an infected animal: The most common transmission of rabies in humans occurs through a bite from an infected animal, usually a dog. The virus is found in the animal's saliva, and if it enters an open wound or mucous membrane (such as the eyes, nose, or mouth), it can infect the person bitten.
  2. Scratching or licking a wound: Although biting is the most common mode of transmission, rabies can also be transmitted by licking an open wound or by a scratch from an infected animal if the virus is present in the wound. saliva and comes into contact with the blood system.
  3. Contact with saliva on mucous membranes: The virus can be transmitted if saliva from an infected animal comes into contact with a person's mucous membranes, such as the eyes, nose or mouth.
  4. Transfer of saliva to skin: Although the risk is lower, the virus can also be transmitted if saliva from an infected animal comes into contact with a wound or cut on the skin.
  5. Exposure to a sick animal: People who handle sick or dead wildlife, including bats, may be exposed to the rabies virus.

Number of cases worldwide

The number of rabies cases and associated mortality varies widely around the world, depending on the region and disease prevention and control efforts. Rabies is primarily prevalent in developing regions, where access to vaccines and medical care may be limited.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), rabies kills around 59,000 people per year worldwide, largely in Africa and Asia, even Eastern Europe. However, these figures may be underestimated due to lack of reporting in some regions.

Rabies occurs worldwide, but some countries and regions are more affected than others. Countries in Asia and Africa, Eastern Europe especially rural areas, are more likely to report high numbers of rabies cases.

Most cases of rabies in humans result from bites from infected stray dogs. Dogs play a crucial role in transmitting the rabies virus to humans in many parts of the world

Treatment and prevention in humans

Treatment of rabies in humans is complex, and once clinical symptoms appear, the disease is almost always fatal. However, there are prevention and treatment measures available, especially in cases of potential exposure to the rabies virus.

Preventative vaccination is the most effective method of preventing rabies in humans. People exposed to potential risks, such as those working in areas where they may come into contact with animals potentially carrying rabies (including veterinarians, specialized laboratory technicians), can receive preventive vaccinations. Vaccination of animals, particularly dogs, is a key strategy to prevent transmission of the rabies virus to humans.

In case of potential contamination with the rabies virus, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is recommended. It consists of a series of anti-rabies vaccinations administered immediately after exposure. The goal is to prevent the virus from spreading into the central nervous system before symptoms appear.

In addition to PEP, wound treatment is important. Wounds should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected with soapy water to reduce the risk of infection.

Once rabies symptoms appear, there is no specific treatment that can reverse the course of the disease. Medical care aims to relieve symptoms and ensure patient comfort.

Close monitoring of the evolution of symptoms allows you to know if a dog is rabid. The law prohibits euthanizing an animal that has bitten a human being within fifteen days following the bite, in order to respect an observation period.

In the absence of the appearance of clinical signs, the dog is not rabid. But if nervous disorders develop, the animal must then be euthanized, and the definitive diagnosis is made by autopsy examination in an approved laboratory. The departmental population protection directorate (DDPP) must be alerted in the event of a positive result.

After potential contamination with the rabies virus, if you have the slightest doubt, contact the Pasteur Institute closest to you.

In conclusion

Rabies is a disease widespread throughout the world, affecting dogs and humans in particular. It is very often fatal, which is why prevention measures are very important.