How to Check a Pet for Rabies

by Miranda Sinclair
    If you suspect your pet may be suffering from rabies, monitor its behavior closely.

    If you suspect your pet may be suffering from rabies, monitor its behavior closely.

    dog image by Joanna Redesiuk from

    Rabies is a contagious and dangerous disease and is usually transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. There are three stages of rabies: the prodromal phase, the furious phase and the paralytic phase. Animals in each phase display unique symptoms that can help you determine whether or not your pet has rabies. Because these symptoms may also be present with other diseases, the only certain way to diagnose rabies is to have a veterinarian to conduct a direct fluorescent antibody test on the animal's brain tissue. This test cannot be performed on a live animal. At the veterinary clinic, tests can also be performed on the serum, spinal fluid and saliva of a live animal or human suspected to have contracted rabies. Though not 100 percent reliable, these tests can help to determine treatment for humans and animals. If your pet exhibits some of the symptoms of one or more of the phases of rabies, you should take it to a professional veterinarian for diagnosis.

    Prodromal Phase

    Step 1

    If your pet is a dog, listen to your dog's bark. A change of tone in bark that lasts for two to three days is a sign of the first stage of rabies.

    Step 2

    Monitor the amount of food that your pet eats. Loss of appetite occurs in the first stages of rabies.

    Step 3

    Monitor your pet for fever or subtle changes in behavior.

    Furious Phase or Mad Dog Syndrome

    Step 1

    Continue to monitor your pet's appetite. In this second phase, the appetite will change again and your pet will begin to eat anything, including inedible objects. This phase usually lasts for two to four days.

    Step 2

    Listen to the sounds your pet makes. This phase is often marked by constant growling or barking.

    Step 3

    Check your pet's pupils and facial expressions. The furious phase is marked by dilated pupils, disorientation and anxious or alert facial expressions.

    Step 4

    Monitor your pet's behavior. One of the most obvious signs of rabies is aggressive behavior in an animal. Animals in the second stage of rabies may not show fear of natural predators and may attack moving objects, other animals and people.

    Step 5

    Watch for physical signs of seizures, roaming and trembling.

    Paralytic Stage

    Step 1

    Watch for signs of choking. This often begins the paralytic stage, which can last for two to four days.

    Step 2

    Monitor your pet's ability to swallow. The pet may experience drooling or foaming at the mouth, which is a classic sign of rabies.

    Step 3

    Check your pet's jaw and throat for signs of paralysis. A dog's lower jaw may drop during this stage.

    Step 4

    Check for signs of paralysis in other parts of the body. During this phase, the paralysis usually begins in the jaw and throat and moves to the rest of the body. The animal may then slip into a coma and die.


    • The best way to prevent rabies in pets is to vaccinate them against it. If your pet is vaccinated and is bitten by another animal you should bring your pet to the vet for observation and re-vaccination.
    • Because rabies is usually transmitted through the bite of a rabid creature, if your pet is bitten by another animal you should alert your local animal control center of the incident and provide as many details as possible.


    • If you suspect that your animal has rabies, take it to the vet immediately. Rabies is contagious and rabid animals can become very dangerous very quickly so keep children and other pets away from an animal you suspect to be rabid.
    • If you are bitten by an animal you suspect to be rabid, go to the doctor immediately.

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    About the Author

    Based in Portland, Ore., Miranda Sinclair has been writing professionally since 2009. She holds a B.A. in English and theater from the University of Oregon, as well as an M.A. in English and certificate in teaching college composition from San Francisco State University. Sinclair works as a tutor and teacher of writing.

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