Dog Bites and Rabies

dogs teeth

Dog owners are legally responsible for keeping their pets up-to-date on rabies vaccinations, and one of the first things you should do if you've been bitten by a dog is to find out if it was vaccinated. If you were bitten by a stray dog, or cannot find the dog's owner, you should seek medical help right away.

What is rabies?

The word "rabies" scares people, and for good reason. It's a viral infection that affects the central nervous system, and cases have been reported in all states except Hawaii. It is typically transmitted through the saliva of an infected host. The most common mode of transmission is a bite.

Over half of the people who get rabies are kids under the age of 15.

What are the symptoms of rabies?

In people

The first symptoms usually appear 2 to 12 weeks after infection, but may begin as soon as a few days after exposure or as long as a few years after. They are similar to the flu and include weakness, discomfort, fever, or headache. There may also be a discomfort, prickling, or itching at the site of the bite. This stage can last for days.

The virus then begins to spread through the central nervous system, and fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord develops. Two forms of the disease can follow:

  • Furious rabies: People exhibit sings of hyperactivity, agitation, aggressive behavior, hallucinations, delusions, high temperature, excessive saliva production, hydrophobia (fear of water), and sometimes aerophobia (fear of flying). After a few days, death is caused by cardio-respiratory arrest.
  • Paralytic rabies: This accounts for about 30% of human cases. The course of this form of the disease is normally longer than furious rabies. The muscles become paralyzed, starting at the site of the infection. A coma develops, followed by death.

After symptoms appear, the virus is almost always fatal.

In dogs

Rabies progresses in three stages – the nerves, the salivary glands, and paralysis. After it passes through the nerves, it moves quickly into the salivary glands. Finally, the animal dies due to paralysis. Rabies is always fatal in dogs.

Symptoms include:

  • Changes in behavior
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Paralysis – inability to move a part of the body
  • Losing any fear of people or objects
  • Foaming at the mouth

How is Rabies Treated?

If your doctor suspects you could have rabies but you don't display any signs or symptoms, a treatment called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is used. This consists of thorough cleaning of the wound, administration of rabies immunoglobulin, and a series of rabies vaccination shots.

If you have never been vaccinated for rabies before, you will probably receive five doses of the vaccine over the course of 30 days. If you were previously vaccinated, you will receive two doses of the vaccine.

Were You or a Loved One Was the Victim of a Dog Bite?

As much as we think of dogs as "man's best friend," there are almost 5 million dog bites in the United States every year. If you were seriously hurt in one of these incidents, we know that it's not just a statistic to you. The physical damage, emotional stress, and financial harm done by dog bites are very real.

We can help you sort through the legal and financial impact of your dog bite so you can focus on your health and recovery. The first step is getting in touch with us for a free legal consultation. Call 412-394-1000 or fill out the form at the top right of this page. We're available 24/7, and there's no obligation to use our services.

"Rabies." April 25, 2014.
"Rabies Fact Sheet." World Health Organization. July 2013.