How Do Dogs Get Rabies?

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Dog Health By Meg Marrs 4 min read May 24, 2021

how do dogs get rabies

Rabies is a very frightening disease, and some owners may find themselves wondering — how do dogs get rabies? And how do I prevent my dog from contracting this horrific disease?

Rabies is a common disease that plagues animals, with wild animals like raccoons and skunks serving as common carriers. Animals infected with rabies pass it along to other animals through their saliva.

Dogs are capable of not only getting this disease, but also spreading it to their owners as well. All dog owners should be aware of how dogs get rabies so that they know what to do to prevent it from happening to their pets.

Common Ways For Dogs to Get Rabies

Dogs get rabies in one of two primary ways:

  • Animal Bite. The most common method for getting rabies is through a bite from an infected animal. High levels of the virus are usually present in an infected animal’s saliva. If an animal that carries the virus bites the dog, there is a high possibility that the dog will contract the virus as well.
  • Scratch. A scratch may also cause the infection to spread from one animal to another, if saliva enters the wound (the scratch itself won’t transmit the virus, but it’ll provide a route by which saliva can contaminate the wound). In fact, dogs with any type of open wound can also catch the disease if the other animal’s saliva comes in contact with it.

How to Prevent Rabies in Dogs

Rabies is certainly scary, but fortunately, it’s pretty easy to prevent in the industrialized world.

  • Get Vaccinated. The best way to prevent rabies is to get vaccinated. All dogs (and cats) should receive this vaccination, and people who are at higher risk of getting the virus should too (just speak with your doctor if you think you’re at high risk). In many states, rabies vaccinations are required for pets, while some regions delegate that ruling to the county. Regardless, you should get your pet vaccinated for their safety and for the safety of you and others.
  • Be On Alert. Another way to prevent dogs from getting rabies is to keep them inside whenever possible. It is not ideal to let an animal run loose, as this gives them a better opportunity to come in contact with an animal that is infected with the disease.
  • Avoid Strange and Stray Animals. It is also best to stay away from stray animals. Some may seem friendly, but there is no way to tell whether or not that animal is vaccinated against the disease. It may also be difficult to tell whether or not the animal already has it. Animals infected with rabies often act strange, showing a lack of normal fear towards other animals and humans. While it may appear at first that this animal is “friendly” since it doesn’t run when you approach it, this could be a sign of rabies and so you should always proceed with extreme caution.

Symptoms of Rabies

Some dogs show no sign of symptoms of rabies initially, while others will quickly start to change, exhibiting odd behaviors. Here are some symptoms of rabies:

  • Increased aggression or irritability
  • Excessive salivating
  • Frothy, white substance seen at corners of mouth
  • Coughing or throwing up white foam
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • Change in how a dog’s bark sounds

Rabies is a serious disease that needs to be treated as such. It is important for dog owners to keep a close eye on their pets so they do not come in contact with wild animals that could carry rabies. In addition to raccoons and skunks, bats and foxes are also carriers of this disease, and they are commonly seen in many locations.

Dog owners should do everything in their power to prevent their dogs from getting rabies, and take them to a veterinarian right away if any symptoms are detected.

The ultimate thing to remember: always get your dog vaccinated against rabies!

What to Do if Your Dog Gets Rabies

If a dog gets bit by another animal infected with rabies, he needs to be taken to the veterinarian immediately. The dog will need to be quarantined and kept away from other people and animals.

An unvaccinated dog will not survive, while a vaccinated dog has a chance. As noted above, you should always get your dog vaccinated against rabies, since rabies infection is fatal.

It is best to put a dog with suspected rabies into a carrier or cage for transport (if it is safe to do so — you don’t want to become exposed to the virus yourself). If the dog is already acting viciously and attacking, then the owner must call animal control to have them transport the dog safely.

It is also important to disinfect all areas of the home that the dog’s saliva could have come in contact with. Failing to do so could mean spreading the infection, especially for anyone who has an open wound or even simple scratch on their bodies.

Use preventive measures to protect you and your pets from this horrific disease.


Have you ever dealt with a rabid animal? What was your experience like? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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Written by

Meg Marrs

Meg Marrs is the Founder and Director of Marketing at K9 of Mine. She is a lifelong canine enthusiast and adores dogs of all shapes and sizes! She loves iced coffee, hammocks, and puppy-cuddling!


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