Signs of Rabies in Cats and Dogs

Rabies is lethal to both cats and dogs.
Rabies is lethal to both cats and dogs. (Image: pets love (greetings card) image by araraadt from

Rabies is one of the most deadly viruses that affects common house pets. Rabies is often seen in the wild in raccoons, bats, foxes, coyotes and most often in skunks. The infected animal almost always dies. However, in a few cases the infected animal survives, which is why it is so important to keep your pets vaccinated. Non-vaccinated dogs and cats can be infected with rabies. You must be able to recognize the warning signs of of rabies, in case you see a dog or cat displaying such symptoms.

Prodromal Phase

The prodromal phase is the first, or initial, phase of a rabies infection. The most common symptoms during this period are fever and chewing at the infection or bite site. Dogs and cats may display somewhat erratic behavior, not wanting their favorite toys, walking aimlessly and general restlessness. It is often difficult at first to diagnose rabies as the cause of these symptoms, because the rabies virus can lie dormant for weeks or months after the initial infection occurs.

Furious Phase

An increase in restlessness is often seen as the animal progresses to the furious phase of the infection. The animal often displays increased skin irritability and may chew at itself incessantly. Some animals will begin to chew on non-toy items, such as furniture or books, often items they have never before shown interest in. Increased sensitivity to light ( photophobia) also accompanies the furious phase, and the animal may hide from bright light. More serious symptoms seen during this phase include pacing, aggression, barking or howling, extreme irritability and seizures.

Paralytic Phase

The paralytic phase is the last phase of a rabies infection, and death soon follows for any animal displaying such symptoms. The muscles of the animal's throat weaken, and the animal loses the ability to swallow. Because of this, animals will avoid water, not because they fear it. Drooling is often seen during the paralytic phase, as the animal drops its jaw from the muscle paralysis. Depression will set in for most animals, and they will withdraw from human contact. By this time, respiratory failure is usually present, and the animal will slip into a coma and, finally, die.

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