A dog barking outside.

How Can I Tell If A Dog Has Rabies?

Rabies is a terrible virus that, even nowadays, could take human lives, and at the same time, it is a disease that is very easily prevented if owners stay up to date on their dogs’ vaccination schedule. Around 59,000 people worldwide lose their life to rabies each year. As dog owners, it is our duty to try and keep this horrible illness from coming into our communities, even though rabies is not that easily transmitted. So, how can you tell if a dog has rabies?

The most common signs of rabies are restlessness and signs of aggression when the dog was not provoked. If you see something like this, please contact your vet as soon as possible. Never approach a dog you think has rabies, either. Always contact animal control.

What Is Rabies And What Causes This Disease?

Rabies is caused by the rabies virus, which comes from the family rhabdoviridae. It is a virus that, once it gets into the system, affects the brain and spinal cord. Compared to other viruses, it does not seem that easily transmittable. This means that for a dog or a person to get the virus, they must be bitten by an already ill animal carrying rabies. Unfortunately, it has a high fatality rate. This means that once the symptoms appear, the chance of death is most certainly 100%. There is currently no cure for rabies, which is why when the disease is confirmed, the dog is humanely put down to sleep. 

How Can My Dog Get Rabies?

In general, in countries where owners regularly vaccinate and protect their dogs from this virus, the possibility of your dog getting it is quite low. The possibility of a dog getting bitten by a rabid animal increases for those dogs that usually go hunting though. This is because the natural carriers for the disease are usually wild animals such as raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks. 

Your dog could get rabies if it is not protected against it and it is bitten by an animal that already has the virus though. The virus is usually excreted in large concentrations in the saliva, which means when the dog gets bitten, the virus is easily transmitted to the healthy animal. Another way to get the virus is if an animal or human comes into contact with saliva from a sick animal and they have a wound or a scratch on their hand. 

What Are The Early Signs Of Rabies To Look For?

A dog barking while outside.
Be on the lookout for signs like aggression.

It could take at least 10 days before a dog presents any signs of rabies. This means that owners are often unaware that anything has happened. It is quite common for dogs that go out in the woods for walks or are used for hunting. But it is always useful to know what the early warning signs are. That way you can be prepared and protect yourself from a potential bite. Also, even if you don’t notice the signs if you see your dog has a bite, contact your vet right away.

Increased aggression 

Every dog has a minimal level of aggression. But if for any reason you notice your dog becomes worse in this area in a short period of time, you should consider calling your vet.


This is important to report to your vet, especially in cases when your dog has always been a calm character. 


Most owners know their dogs, and they know what triggers them, so if you notice your dog has started growling and trying to bite you for no obvious reason, you should pick up the phone and call the vet.

How Is Rabies Diagnosed, And Can We Treat It?

Unfortunately, in order for the virus to be confirmed, the dog needs to be euthanized because the sample for testing is taken from the brain. Currently, there is no other way to identify the virus. 

Another downside of this story is that this is a disease that has no cure. That means that once the symptoms appear, the dog will most likely be put down to sleep. If you vaccinate your dog regularly, but it ends up being bitten by a wild animal that is thought to carry the virus, your dog will get a booster shot of the rabies vaccine so that the dog’s immune system reacts properly and does not allow for the virus to spread. 

Conclusion: How Can I Tell If A Dog Has Rabies?

The reason why developed countries rarely hear about rabies is that owners vaccinate and protect their pets on time. The authorities also vaccinate the wild animal population by leaving special types of treats that contain the vaccine against the rabies virus, and in that way, protect them as well. 

This disease is deadly for dogs and people, which is why it is government controlled. If you are planning a trip with your dog, make sure you talk to your vet and prepare on time because you will most likely not be allowed to travel if your dog is not up to date with its rabies vaccine. 

So, what’s got you thinking about dogs and rabies? Are you just trying to be better prepared? Let us know in the comments below!

Dr. Nade Georgieva
Dr. Nade Georgieva
Dr. Nade Georgieva, DVM, PG Dipp (Anesthesia and Analgesia) Nade is a young veterinarian from North Macedonia, with five years of experience in small animal clinical practice. She graduated from the Veterinary Faculty in Skopje, after which she got employed in her hometown. She has shown great interest in the field of pain management and anesthesia, and was the first vet in the country to continue education in the field. In 2021 she graduated with Distinction at the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, obtaining the title Postgraduate Diploma-Anesthesia and Analgesia. Nade is owned by a year old black Labrador retriever named Fred and she loves spending her time outdoors with her dog and friends. In her spare time, she also loves to learn to play the guitar and take photos of nature and animals.