What Is Rabies?

Dr. Larry Mangum


Appalachian Animal Hospital

Each September, we raise awareness of the dangers of rabies through World Rabies Day.

Humans and animals can get rabies any time of year, though humans and household pets may be at greater risk in warm weather because that’s when they tend to spend the most time outdoors.

What is rabies?

Rabies was named for the Latin word “to rage.” That’s because animals that are affected by rabies can sometimes act as if they’re angry. Pets may act strangely and become unapproachable. Rabies attacks the brain and spinal cord. As the disease progresses, animals can develop hypersensitivity to light and sound as well as paralysis of the nerves that control the head and throat.

How is rabies contracted?

Rabies is a virus that is spread through contact with saliva from an infected animal. This occurs when an infected animal bites another animal or person, but it also can be contracted if that animal licks a scratch or open wound. Being bitten or licked may not immediately cause rabies symptoms, however. Once symptoms appear, such as fever and pain, rabies can be fatal.

Which animals get rabies?

Rabies only affects mammals naturally. These can include dogs, cats, cows, horses, foxes, and skunks.

Rabies prevention

Vaccinations can protect domestic pets against rabies. In fact, rabies shots are required by law in many areas.

Treated food is sometimes used to prevent the spread of rabies among wild animals. The animals eat the medicated food, which immunizes them.

People should steer clear of wild animals to avoid rabies. Never walk up to a wild animal and be careful of pets that are unfamiliar. Animals afflicted with rabies may exhibit peculiar behavior or act out of characters (i.e. nocturnal animals roaming during the day). Anyone who suspects a sick animal should promptly call Appalachian Animal Hospital at (423) 587-4393.