Rabies is one of the most grim diseases that afflict animals, not least because how easily it can be transmitted to humans. According to WHO statistics, roughly 36% of all deaths caused by rabies occur in India, and it certainly isn’t the prettiest way to go.
Caused by the Lyssavirus, rabies can be contracted by all warm blooded animals. In India, the most common cases of rabies were transmitted by dog bites. There has also been an increase in the number of cases of infected monkeys biting people. Apart from these animals, rabies can be carries by mongooses, ferrets, cats, moles, etc. Although not unheard of, cases of rabies in small rodents are rare.
They say prevention is better than cure, in the case of rabies, however, there is no cure. There is no stopping the disease once symptoms start manifesting themselves. Past a certain stage, the mortality rate from rabies infections is nearly 100%.
Your pet is at risk of contracting rabies if they are unvaccinated or play outdoors and/or come into contact with wild or stray animals. The disease makes the animal salivate excessively, and there are large amounts of the virus present in the saliva, so rabies is primarily spread through animal bites. If you suspect your pet or you have been bitten, you must clean the area thoroughly with antibacterial soap and water for at least 15 minutes, and especially make sure that there is no residual saliva present. Be careful while doing so though, and use gloves. Do not touch the infected area directly, lest you get infected yourself.
If the animal in question is somebody’s pet, get in contact with the owner and make sure that the pet has been vaccinated, or if it has been displaying any of the symptoms of rabies. Symptoms to look out for in an animal can be the animal undergoing a behavioral change, such as becoming more aggressive, or very docile. The animal will probably be running a fever, will be repeatedly licking its wounds if it’s infection comes from a bite and will be salivating excessively. However, the animal may be a carrier of the virus even if no symptoms are present, they will just manifest later. So, the safest option would be to clean the wounds and take it to a vet. If the animal is wild, or stray, make sure you contact an animal shelter or the animal control department and inform them that the animal is going around attacking people unprovoked. Such behaviour in itself may be a symptom.
Rabies mat manifest in two ways: furious and dumb. In the furious rabies, the animal becomes extremely aggressive, and may go about biting other animals or people. It may even become uncharacteristically friendly. In dumb rabies, the animal is partially or completely paralyzed.
The rabies virus affects the spinal cord and brain of the host animal. The problem is that diagnosis can only be made on the basis of symptoms, so there is really no way of knowing if the animal has rabies or not if it’s symptoms have not manifested yet. The only way to be absolutely sure is by performing a biopsy on the brain tissue, and that can only be performed after the animal is dead. Apart from the symptoms mentioned above, a rabies infection also leads to agitation, confusion and hallucinations, at least as observed in humans. This, apart form the behavioral change, is also another reason why the animal is said to go mad when infected. Stories about the sweetest dogs turning into ferocious beasts that go around biting people without provocation on being infected are very common, unfortunately. That is not where the horror stops. Rabies also causes excessive salivation, due to which the animals froth at the mouth, and develop an acute fear of water, or hydrophobia. Nobody could ever allow such a horrible death to befall their beloved pet.
The solution, of course, is to get them vaccinated beforehand, especially in the case of larger mammals. You might assume that since your pet always lives inside the house, or since you always walk them on a leash when outside, that your pet isn’t at risk of getting bit. But accidents may happen and catch you off guard. The worst would be if the bite were unnoticeable and you if you were to fail to spot it on your pet. In such a case, you’d only know once the symptoms started, and by then it’d be too late.Contact your vet immediately and ask him about the vaccination options available and get your animal, vaccinated immediately. If you haven’t already done so, make sure you get vaccinated yourself too.
If your pet has not been vaccinated and it is bit by another rabid animal, it will need to be quarantined, for months on end, if necessary, to ascertain if it has been infected or not. In case it is found to be infected and the symptoms begin to manifest, the kindest thing would be to euthanize the animal, to prevent it’s prolonged suffering and inevitable death. The only way to avoid unleashing such misery on yourself and your pet is to get them vaccinated.