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Causes of rabies & early symptoms of rabies in pets

November 7, 2023

While diseases like rabies may seem like a thing of the past, the disease still exists in many regions around the world, especially in countries with limited access to healthcare, veterinary services, or vaccination programs for animals. In Spain, rabies control measures, awareness, and vaccination programs have been effective in reducing incidences of the disease, but it’s never recommended to leave things to chance when it comes to the health of your pet or yourself. In this article, we will discuss the causes of rabies, early symptoms of rabies, and Caser coverages for pets

If you suspect that you or your pet may have been exposed to rabies, consult a doctor and veterinarian immediately.


What is rabies? 

Rabies is a viral disease that primarily affects mammals, including humans. It is caused by the rabies virus and is typically transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. The most common breeding ground for the rabies virus are wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes. In some regions, domestic animals like dogs, cats, and livestock can also carry and transmit the virus, but this is less common in areas with effective vaccination programs for pets. Check out the Spain pet vaccination requirements

What are the causes of rabies?

There are many ways that your pet can contract or transmit rabies:  

  • Animal Bites: Rabies is most commonly transmitted to humans through the bites of infected animals. Infected animals can have the rabies virus in their saliva, and when they bite a person, the virus can be introduced into the person's bloodstream.
  • Saliva Contact: In addition to bites, contact with the saliva or nervous tissue of an infected animal can also transmit rabies. This can occur through open wounds or mucous membranes (such as the eyes, mouth, or nose).
  • Scratches: Although less common, rabies can also be transmitted through the scratches of infected animals, especially if the animal's saliva comes into contact with the wound.
  • Aerosol Transmission: In very rare cases, rabies can be transmitted through the inhalation of aerosolized virus particles. This can occur in situations where the virus is present in high concentrations, such as in a laboratory setting.

What are the early symptoms of rabies?

Keep in mind that rabies can be difficult to diagnose in animals, especially in the early stages when symptoms may be subtle. This can lead to delayed recognition of the disease and increased risk of transmission to humans and other animals. That’s why it’s so important to vaccinate pets for rabies–after all, prevention is the best way to avoid rabies altogether! Preventative vaccination is also recommended for people who work in high-risk professions, such as veterinarians and wildlife workers.

Rabies in pets, including dogs and cats, typically progresses through several stages, with symptoms evolving over time. The early symptoms of rabies in pets can vary, but they often include: 

  • Behavioral Changes: Rabies can cause significant changes in behavior, including agitation, irritability, or aggressiveness. Conversely, a typically aggressive pet might become more withdrawn.
  • Increased Vocalization: Some pets may exhibit excessive barking, meowing, or howling.
  • Difficulty Swallowing: Rabies can affect the throat muscles, making it difficult for pets to swallow. This may lead to excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth.
  • Lethargy: Affected pets may appear unusually tired or weak.
  • Loss of Appetite: A decrease in appetite is common, and some pets may refuse to eat or drink.
  • Hypersensitivity: Rabid pets may become unusually sensitive to light, sound, and touch.
  • Uncoordinated Movements: Pets may have difficulty walking or may display unsteady movements.

As the disease progresses, pets may become disoriented, experience seizures, or even be affected by paralysis. 


Why is rabies so dangerous?

If left untreated, rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. That’s because the rabies virus travels along nerve cells to the brain and spinal cord, and eventually spreads to other parts of the body. 

Therefore, immediate medical attention, including post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) with rabies vaccinations, is crucial for anyone who has been bitten or scratched by an animal suspected of carrying the virus. PEP can prevent the onset of the disease in humans if administered shortly after exposure.

There is no known cure for rabies once clinical symptoms develop, so prevention is the key to managing rabies.

What coverage does Caser provide for pets?

Caser Expat Insurance is a trusted provider in Spain for healthcare, auto, home, and pet insurance needs. In terms of Caser pet insurance, we offer several excellent coverages:

  • Caser WeCAN Check: This is our definitive pet insurance in Spain for cats and dogs, with veterinary assistance without limits or costs, public liability coverage, and pet services including telephone consultations. In addition, there is no limit of use for the annual rabies vaccine for your pets. 
  • Caser WeCAN Live: This is our emergency pet insurance in Spain, which covers 100% of any lifesaving treatment. Caser covers the cost if something serious happens, including operations, hospitalisations, tests, etc. There’s no maximum limit (over 800 euros), over-the-phone vet assistance, and free choice to go to your trusted vet or any other clinic in Spain. 
  • Caser WeCAN RC: This is our "Civil Responsibility" coverage that protects you in the event of possible damage that your pet may cause to third parties. This way, you don't have to assume any potential compensation caused by damages (up to your chosen economic limit, maximum 350,000 Euros). 

Overall, rabies is a dangerous and potentially deadly disease for both pets and humans, emphasizing the importance of prevention and prompt medical intervention when exposure occurs.

For the most up-to-date and region-specific information on the prevalence of rabies, it's best to consult with local health authorities in Spain or international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) or the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH). For more information on Caser pet insurance, consult the guide below: 

Download Free Guide:  Pet Insurance Options in Spain

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