5.4.3. Are there specific signs in an animal that we can watch to confirm that it is rabid?

Clinical signs of rabies are rarely definitive, therefore if a likely exposure occurs humane euthanasia should be carried out and the brain tissue of the animal should be tested by fluorescent antibody test in a reliable diagnostic laboratory. However, if facilities for caging are available, the animal can be caught and observed daily for clinical signs of rabies.

Dogs can be confined in appropriate holding facilities or on the owner’s property (provided that there are no risks of accidental exposure of the owner or other people). If the animal stays healthy for more than 10 days, rabies can be ruled out and the dogs should be vaccinated and returned to their owner. Dogs showing signs consistent with rabies should be euthanised immediately using humane techniques, available here.

Rabid animals of all species usually exhibit typical signs of CNS disturbance, with minor variations among species. The most reliable signs, regardless of species, are acute behavioural changes and unexplained progressive paralysis. The clinical course may be divided into 3 general phases—prodromal, acute excitative, and paralytic/end stage. However, this division is of limited practical value because of the variability of signs and the irregular lengths of the phases. During the prodromal period, which lasts ∼1–3 days, animals show only vague nonspecific signs, which intensify rapidly. The disease progresses rapidly after the onset of paralysis, and death is virtually certain a few days thereafter. Some animals die rapidly without marked clinical signs.

The term “furious rabies” refers to animals in which aggression (the acute neural excitative phase) is pronounced. “Dumb or paralytic rabies” refers to animals in which the behavioural changes are minimal, and the disease is manifest principally by paralysis.

The "six step" method for a presumptive diagnosis of rabies in living dogs

The six clinical criteria for a diagnosis of rabies are:
1) Age of the dog?
a) Less than 1 month ______________________________ not rabies
b) One month or more or not known ___________________ go to 2

2) State of health of the dog?
a) Normal (not sick) or sick more than 10 days __________ not rabies
b) Sick less than 10 days or not known _________________ go to 3

3) How did the illness evolve?
a) Acute onset from normal health_____________________ not rabies
|b) Gradual onset or not known _______________________ go to 4

4) How was the condition during the clinical course in last 3-5 days?
a) Stable or improving (with no treatment) _____________ not rabies
b) Symptoms and signs progressing or not known ________ go to 5

5) Does the dog show the sign of “circling”?
(It stumbles or walks in a circle and hits its head against the wall as if blind.)
a) Yes ___________________________________________ not rabies
b) No or not known _________________________________ go to 6

6) Does this dog show at least 2 of the 17 following signs or symptoms during the last week of life?
a) Yes ___________________________________________ rabies
b) No or showing only 1 sign _________________________ not rabies

1. Drooping jaw
2. Abnormal sound in barking
3. Dry drooping tongue
4. Licking its own urine
5. Abnormal licking of water
6. Regurgitation
7. Altered behaviour
8. Biting and eating abnormal objects
9. Aggression
10. Biting with no provocation
11. Running without apparent reason
12. Stiffness upon running or walking
13. Restlessness
14. Bites during quarantine
15. Appearing sleepy
16. Imbalance of gait
17. Frequent demonstration of the "dog sitting" position

Summarized from “Six Criteria for Rabies Diagnosis in Living Dogs.” V. Tepsumethanon, H. Wilde, F. X. Meslin; J Med Assoc Thai. 2005; 88(3)

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Version 4 - last updated May 2017