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How Common Is Rabies in Dogs? Everything You Need to Know!

Kathryn Copeland

By Kathryn Copeland

foaming at dog's mouth

Rabies is a serious disease that threatens both animals and humans. It’s preventable for pets, but unfortunately, once the clinical signs are apparent, it’s almost always fatal. If you’re wondering how many dogs come down with rabies, the answer depends on the location.

In some parts of the world, rabies isn’t that common due to regulations and vaccinations. However, it is still fairly common in other parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa.

Here are a few statistics about rabies and dogs, including the symptoms and the best ways to protect your dog.

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Rabies Statistics


In Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency stated there were 105 rabies cases in 2021, with six of those being dogs. The bat had the highest number at 51 rabies cases.

So far, in 2022, there have been 85 cases of rabies, with nine of those being dogs. Unsurprisingly, bats have the highest number at 25.

sick dog in vet
Image Credit: Mirko Sajkov, Pixabay

United States

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted a marked decrease in domestic animals with rabies in 2018 compared to almost 60 years earlier. It’s estimated that about 5,000 animal rabies cases are reported a year, and more than 90% are wildlife. In 1960, most of the cases reported were domestic animals, with the majority being dogs.

Furthermore, from 1960 to 2018, there were 127 human rabies cases in the U.S., with about a quarter of these cases from dog bites while traveling overseas. But for rabies infections sustained on U.S. soil, 70% came from bats.

It’s estimated that 60 to 70 dogs are reported as rabid in the U.S. every year (and more than 250 cats). In 2018, the most rabid dogs were found in Texas, with 15 dogs and 13 in Puerto Rico.

In comparison, in 2018, wild animals made up 92.7% of the rabies cases in the U.S. Bats made up 33% of the cases, followed by raccoons at 30.3%.


The World Health Organization has found that stray dogs are responsible for as much as 99% of rabies transmissions to people. But 95% of human deaths from rabies are in the Africa and Asia regions.

Around 80% of these cases tend to happen in rural areas. Unfortunately, these vulnerable populations don’t have easy access to rabies vaccines, which helps account for the large numbers.

stray dog standing on the road
Image Credit: balouriarajesh, Pixabay

Rabies Isn’t Present In Some Places

While rabies can be found in many countries around the world, there are also several locations where rabies is rare. Antarctica has never reported a single case of rabies. For the most part, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Pacific Islands, Ireland, the U.K., and parts of Scandinavia are free from rabies.

How Is Rabies Transmitted?

The most common way that rabies is passed on is through a bite from an animal infected with the virus. The virus travels from the wound along the nerves and works its way up to the brain and from there, to the salivary glands.

When an infected animal bites, the virus-laden saliva is pushed into the wound, which is why bites are the most common method. It’s also possible to become infected if the saliva enters a scratch or the mucous membranes like the nose, eyes, and mouth. But becoming infected in these ways is rare.

Bats are one of the most common causes of infecting humans, though this is primarily in North America. The bat’s bite can be about the size of a hypodermic needle, so it can sometimes go unnoticed.

dog bite
Image Credit: dimid_86, Shutterstock

Incubation Period

From the time of the bite or wound to when the virus makes its way to the brain, there is an incubation period. During this time, there won’t be any symptoms, which also means the animal is not capable of infecting anyone.

There are a few conditions that can determine how long the incubation period can be. It can range from 10 days to over a year, but the average for dogs tends to be about 2 weeks and up to 4 months.

How long the incubation period can be depends on:

  • Where the animal was bitten — the closer the wound is to the spine and brain, the quicker the virus will reach the brain
  • How severe the bite is
  • How much of the rabies virus is injected into the wound

Once the rabies reaches the brain, the symptoms will appear, which have a few stages.

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Rabies Symptoms

The Prodromal Phase

The prodromal phase is the first stage when the clinical signs of rabies start to present themselves. The first noticeable symptom is a change in temperament. Your quiet and reserved dog can become more excitable and agitated, and your hyper dog might become nervous and shy.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Lethargy

The prodromal phase can last around 2 to 3 days.

Black domestic dog are stoop body and vomit mucus
Image Credit: Mumemories, Shutterstock

Paralytic or Dumb Rabies

Once the first phase has run its course, there are two final stages. Dogs will exhibit one of these or a combination of both.

The dumb or paralytic rabies stage is the more common of the final stages of rabies. The symptoms are as follows:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Excessive salivation
  • Gradual paralysis
  • Incoordination
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Facial distortion
  • Seizures

Furious Rabies

Furious rabies is the stage that most people are familiar with:

  • Extreme aggression toward everything
  • Overly agitated and excitable
  • Gradual paralysis
  • Pica (eating inedible objects like dirt, stones, and garbage)
  • Unable to eat or drink
  • Seizures
  • Hypersensitive to sounds and light

Once you’re observing the clinical signs of rabies, it’s unfortunately too late for the dog, as it is 100% fatal at this point. The animal typically dies within 7 days from when the symptoms start.

Dog angry
Image Credit: simonocampo999, Pixabay

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Can Rabies Be Treated?

If the dog has been kept up to date on their vaccinations, there’s a good chance that they will survive. When a dog has been bitten, the vet will give the dog a rabies vaccine and might put them in quarantine, which typically lasts about 10 days but could be for as long as 6 months if the dog has never received a rabies shot.

In most countries, there are bylaws that require dogs and cats (and sometimes other animals, like ferrets) to get the annual rabies booster. They usually receive their first shot by 3 months of age and have a yearly booster for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, there is no cure once you see the symptoms. When the animal shows signs of rabies, they usually die within the week. This is why euthanasia is best in these situations, not only for public safety but also to ensure that the animal doesn’t suffer.

How Common Is Rabies in Dogs?

The answer to this question depends on where the dog is located. In some areas, like the U.K., rabies is quite rare, and in continents like North America, rabies in dogs is definitely not common.

But in some countries in Asia and Africa, rabies in dogs is widespread, leading to higher numbers in the transmission of the disease and fatalities in humans.

Due to the laws and vaccinations in many parts of the world, though, rabies has become far less common in dogs.

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Rabies is a serious disease. It’s highly contagious but entirely preventable. Humans don’t typically get rabies shots unless they work in a field that frequently puts them into direct contact with animals.

Just ensure that you keep your pet’s vaccinations up to date every year, and if your dog ever comes into contact with a wild animal, a visit to your vet is in order. Report any animal that you see acting erratically to your local health department. It’s always best to be safe than sorry.

See also: Can You Feed Stray Dogs? Are There Problems With It?

Featured Image Credit: Anant Kasetsinsombut, Shutterstock

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