Your Can dogs get rabies from eating after a rabid animal? What to Know

Is it possible to survive a bite from a rabid animal?

There are isolated and poorly documented reports of both dogs and people surviving. In some cases, there may have been very little rabies virus present in the saliva at the time the rabid animal bit its victim. In this situation, the victim may not develop rabies.

However, as Louis Pasteur was the first to show, it is possible to interrupt the progression from an infected bite to the onset of signs by the early post-bite use of anti-rabies serum. This antiserum contains specific immune antibodies to the virus. The most important method for preventing the progression of rabies is by administering a dose of rabies vaccine. The vaccine stimulates the bitten animal to develop its own neutralizing antibodies to the rabies virus. Without vaccination and rapid post-exposure treatment, the chances of survival are poor.

What is rabies?

Rabies is one of the most devastating viral diseases affecting mammals, including dogs and humans. It is a fatal disease caused by infection with the rabies virus. Rabies virus is found throughout the world, including North America, Central and South America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and some parts of Europe. However, there are many areas in the world that are rabies free, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Ireland, Iceland, United Kingdom, Japan, certain Pacific Islands, Antarctica and parts of Scandinavia.

The infection is transmitted when one infected animal bites another. Transmission by other means is rare.

In Europe, foxes are the main reservoir while in North America the skunk, fox, raccoon, coyote, and bat are important sources of infection. In Asia, Africa, and Latin America the main reservoir is not wildlife, but stray dogs. In these areas, human infection and fatalities are more common. After the bite occurs, the rabies virus enters the peripheral nerves (any nerves that are outside of the brain and spinal cord) of the host animal, reproduces, and spreads to the salivary glands. Here the virus is shed in the saliva. Rabies virus does not survive long outside a mammals body.

There are other signs, such as the animal appearing drunk or excessively wobbly, circling, seeming partially paralyzed, acting disorientated or mutilating itself. However, most of these signs can also be indicative of other diseases like distemper or lead poisoning. There are few behavioral signs that are telltale of rabies alone.

Given all the media attention that rabies receives, it may be somewhat surprising to learn that very few people die from rabies nationwide each year. There are fewer than three fatalities each year nationwide, on average.

Rabies tends to be more common in different species in different places, but is certainly not limited to these trends:

Any warm-blooded mammal can carry or contract rabies, but the primary carriers in North America are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes. Thanks to an increase in pet vaccinations, wildlife now account for more than 90 percent of all reported rabies cases.

Despite the long odds of contracting rabies, the remote possibility of infection exists and should not be taken lightly:

Everything You Should Know About Rabies

Headlines can sometimes be very misleading. The title of this post is from a news article that implies that rabies is a foodborne disease. The first sentence of the article states:

“A new study has detailed how two people in Asia contracted rabies after eating dog or cat meat.”

This is a prime example of why it is so important to read more than just the first few sentences of any article, and ideally find the original source of the information. The article refers to a paper in PLoS Medicine. The paper describes two cases of rabies in men from Hanoi, in Vietnam. One had no known history of an animal bite or other rabies exposure, while the other had been bitten a month before becoming sick by a non-rabid dog (the dog was still healthy when the man developed rabies – if the dog had been rabid at the time of the bite it would have died within two weeks). Both patients had butchered and eaten either a dog or cat, including the brain, within 3-8 weeks of becoming sick.

In both cases, the affected people were exposed to animals that were sick (cat) or may have been sick (dog hit by car). Only the people who butchered the animals got rabies, while no one else who ate the animals got sick. It is most likely that the two men were exposed to rabies virus during butchering, through contact of infected nervous tissue (e.g. brain) with any tiny bit of broken skin, or even possibly the eyes, nose or mouth, before the tissue was cooked. In Vietnam, butchering (not eating) dogs is a recognized risk factor for developing rabies. It is extremely unlikely that eating cooked meat from a rabid animal would result in transmission of rabies to a person.