Rabies is a viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes.
"The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of many other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms." - Information collected from the Center for Disease Control website
After coming in contact with the virus, the bitten animal may go through one or all of several stages. With most animals, the virus will spread through the nerves of the bitten animal towards the brain. The virus is relatively slow moving and the average time of incubation from exposure to brain involvement is between 3 to 8 weeks in dogs, 2 to 6 weeks in cats, and 3 to 6 weeks in people. However, incubation periods as long as 6 months in dogs and 12 months in people have been reported. After the virus reaches the brain it then will move to the salivary glands where it can be spread through a bite. After the virus reaches the brain the animal will show one, two, or all of the three different phases.
The first is the prodromal phase and usually lasts for 2-3 days in dogs. Apprehension, nervousness, anxiety, solitude, and a fever may be noted. Friendly animals may become shy or irritable and may snap, whereas, aggressive animals may become affectionate and docile. Most animals will constantly lick the site of the bite. In cats, the prodromal phase lasts for only 1-2 days and they usually develop more fever spikes and erratic behavior than dogs.
From the prodromal phase, animals may enter the furious stage; cats are particularly prone to developing this phase. The furious stage of the disease in dogs usually lasts for 1 to 7 days. Animals become restless and irritable and are hyperresponsive to auditory and visual stimuli. As they become more restless, they begin to roam and become more irritable and vicious. When caged, dogs may bite and attack their enclosures. Animals progress to become disoriented and then have seizures and eventually die.
Animals may develop the paralytic phase either after the prodromal or furious stage. The paralytic phase usually develops within 2 to 4 days after the first signs are noted. Nerves affecting the head and throat are the first to be involved and animals may begin to salivate as a result of their inability to swallow. Deep labored breathing and a dropped jaw may result as the diaphragm and facial muscles become increasingly paralyzed. Animals may make a choking sound and many owners think that there is something lodged in the dog’s throat. The animal will get weaker and eventually go into respiratory failure and die.
The rabies vaccination is a core vaccination in the State of New York AND all dog, cat, and ferret owners are required to keep these immunizations up to date.