Treatment of rabies

Learn how rabies is diagnosed and treated.

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How to diagnose rabies in animals

When an animal is infected with rabies and develops signs, its behavior changes. Its signs and behaviors can vary and be confused with other diseases. Some examples of behaviors that indicate an animal might have rabies include:

  • abnormal walking
  • difficulty swallowing
  • weakness or paralysis
  • spasms or seizure activity
  • a wild animal that appears tame
  • unprovoked biting or aggression
  • drooling or foaming at the mouth
  • eating unusual items like sticks, nails or feces
  • a tame animal that runs away for no apparent reason
  • hoarse barking and growling noises or inability to make noise at all
  • animals that are active at night, like bats and skunks, seen and active during the day

If a public health official or veterinarian thinks a pet or livestock (farm) animal has rabies, the animal may be confined, so they can't expose others. The animal will be monitored to see if signs develop (or worsen) and progress to death. If the animal remains healthy through the duration of the confinement, rabies is highly unlikely.

There are no reliable tests to detect rabies in animals or humans before signs and symptoms start. Animals must be killed to test them.

If testing is needed, a health care provider or veterinary professional will arrange to have the suspect animal put down (euthanized) and its brain tested at a rabies laboratory. This is done to make informed decisions about medical care for exposed people or animals.

How to treat rabies

There is no specific treatment for rabies once symptoms appear. Once symptoms are present, death usually occurs within 7 to 14 days.

Contact your health care provider or go to the hospital right away if you think you have been exposed to rabies. You can be treated before developing symptoms.

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