Just the mere mention of the word “rabies” is enough to trigger alarm and panic amongst pet lovers, given the fatality rate associated with this horrific virus. However, it’s important for all responsible pet owners to recognise that rabies is preventable and with a deeper understanding, you will be empowered to protect your furry friend from the merciless hands of this viral disease.

Causes of Rabies in Cats and Dogs

Rabies can be transmitted to felines and canines when they are exposed to the saliva of an infected animal through a bite. Even though it is less likely, transmission is also possible through a scratch or if your pet’s mucous membranes or open wounds become exposed to the saliva of an animal with rabies. Wild animals in South Africa, such as bats, black-backed jackals, bat-eared foxes and mongooses are common carriers of this unrelenting virus.


Initially, the infected pet may portray extreme behavioural modifications that are contrary to their normal character such as anxiety, agitation and aggression. Energetic and enthusiastic pets may become meek and depressed, whilst jovial and peaceful pets may become cantankerous.

The infected pet may lash out at or attack anything alive or inanimate. They may also be inclined to incessantly lick, chew or bite the area of their body that was bitten. Oversensitivity to sound, light and touch can also be experienced as the virus advances.

Other symptoms of rabies in cats and dogs are:

· Fever

· Paralysis – especially that of the tongue, throat, jaw and legs causing the notorious symptom of foaming from the mouth.

· Pica – consumption of non-food substances such as dirt or rocks

· Seizures

· Drooling

· Chewing stones

· Wandering around aimlessly

· Disorientation

· Incoordination

· Lethargy

· Loss of appetite

· Hypersensitivity

· Hypersalivation


If your pet is projecting these associated symptoms after a vicious attack by or contact with a rabid or wild animal, contact your veterinarian immediately. As the virus has an incubation period of as short as ten days, the vet may quarantine your pet to confirm the case of rabies. Fluid testing of saliva, skin and urine are some of the preferred diagnostic methods. However, the most accurate diagnosis is received through the “direct fluorescent antibody test” which, unfortunately, can only be performed after an animal passes away because this diagnostic procedure requires tissue from the brain.


Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for rabies in cats and dogs. Confirmed cases of rabies in unvaccinated animals must be reported to the local public health authorities who may quarantine the animal or devastatingly, euthanise it based on the regulations in the relevant region.


Ensuring that your pets are properly vaccinated is not only important for them, it is also important for your safety as a pet owner and those around you. Indoor animals have a lower chance of being subjected to vicious attacks or being exposed to rabid animals. Humans must exercise caution when encountering a pet potentially carrying the virus and any places which may have been infected should be thoroughly sterilised by using an appropriate bleaching solution.

Plan of Action if your Pet’s been in Contact with a Rabid Animal

1. Consult your veterinarian immediately!

2. Alert your local health department of the incident and carefully follow their instructions.

3. Alert your local animal control officer if the rabid animal is still roaming free so they can professionally and safely catch the animal.

4. The rabies virus may remain active on your pet’s skin for two hours after the incident, so wear gloves and protective clothing when handling them within this time frame.

5. If your pet has been bitten by a rabid animal and was luckily vaccinated beforehand, a rabies booster should be administered as soon as possible, and they should be closely monitored for 45 days thereafter.

Written by Taliah Williamson for www.infurmation.co.za