Fact or Myth: Do all dogs have rabies?

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By Gerald B. Aycardo, DVM

Flashing out a polite smile, I always answer a big NO every time somebody throws me this question. It is not true and there is no scientific basis at all that dogs are born with rabies.

Sad to say but it is common belief that dogs are genetically rabid. Playful puppies have become a scare, and a single scratch from their tiny teeth is medical emergency.

So which belief is true and which is not? To answer this, I have sorted common claims about rabies and scored each one of them as either a myth or a fact:

Belief #1: Rabies is a deadly disease.

A fact. Rabies is REALLY a deadly disease. It affects our brains, causing us to behave violently, then kills by choking us to death.

Belief #2: All dogs are born with rabies.

A myth. If it were, nobody from the vet practice would be assisting deliveries.

Rabies is caused by a virus. This virus is commonly found in body fluids of a rabid animal, especially in the saliva. Transmission is usually carried out when they bite, or lick on broken skin.

Unless your pup or kitten has come in contact with rabid animals, your little pet is free from rabies.

Belief #3: When a dog bites, it is rabid.

A myth. A healthy dog bites for a reason. An infected dog bites for no reason at all.

A dog will normally bite if you step on his tail. Eventually, a dog will bite at a stranger who pats his head. On the contrary, rabid dogs just REALLY love to bite. They'll pick a fight with anyone, anywhere and anything, including tires and chairs.

Belief #4. Puppies are more rabid than adult dogs.

A myth. The effect of rabies is not limited by age. When one's pet gets the virus, behavior may be that of a typical violent rascal, and sometimes that of a depressed loner.

There are actually three types of development rabid dogs undergo. The first is called the PRODROMAL PHASE. Dogs may not like to eat, have fever, and exhibit disturbing changes in their voice. This usually lasts 2 to 3 days.

The second is what we all know about rabies, the FURIOUS PHASE. Dogs become vicious, will attack anyone, become disoriented, and crave to eat almost anything, even stones and slippers. This may last 2 to 4 days.

Yet not all rabid dogs enter the second phase. Some proceed directly to the last stage, the PARALYTIC PHASE. This usually lasts 2 to 4 days. Dogs appear to choke, drool a lot, then die because of paralysis.

Belief #5: Rabies vaccination (or immunization) treats and protects pets from rabies.

A myth and a fact. A rabies vaccine protects. It does not treat.

Rabies vaccines protect by stimulating pets to produce antibodies. Antibodies are special cells that stop rabies viruses from gaining residence in the body. When a dog is already rabid, immunization is late and ineffective.

Belief #6. Rabies protection expires immediately after the vaccination due date.

A myth. A due date is not an expiry date.

Even before a due date, antibodies will start to decline. A due date is therefore scheduled to re-immunize your pet (known as “booster shot”) to increase the number of antibodies to optimum protection level.

Protection is still present after a due date, but may wane within months, or possibly, years.

As responsible pet owners, it is still best that we check our due dates and immunize our pets within days thereafter.