Early symptoms of rabies

Early symptoms of rabies

A new study says rabies kills 59,000 people a year, so we may as well look at the early symptoms of rabies. The first signs of this condition resemble the flu and may linger for 2-10 days. When the clinical symptoms appear, rabies is almost invariably deadly. In fact, fewer than 10 cases of human survival from clinical rabies have been documented.

The symptoms of rabies include:

  • Fever.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Agitation.
  • Anxiety.
  • Confusion.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Excessive salivation.
  • Drooling.
  • Hydrophobia (fear of water).
  • Hallucinations.
  • Insomnia.
  • Partial paralysis.
  • Irritability.
  • Aggressiveness.
  • Abnormal thoughts.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Abnormal postures.
  • Seizures.
  • Weakness.
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, or touch.
  • Trouble speaking.
  • Excitability.
  • Numbness.
  • Tingling.
  • Restlessness.

Rabies is a virus that resides in the saliva of infected animals; as such, humans generally contract it after having been bitten by an animal.

Animals that can transmit rabies

Pets and farm animals

Wild animals

  • Cats.
  • Cows.
  • Dogs.
  • Ferrets.
  • Goats.
  • Horses.
  • Bats.
  • Beavers.
  • Coyotes.
  • Foxes.
  • Monkeys.
  • Raccoons.
  • Skunks.
  • Woodchucks.


All mammals can develop rabies. However, being bitten a dog is not the same as being bitten by an exotic pet or wild animal. The former may be kept in observation for early symptoms of rabies, while the latter should be, whenever possible, euthanized with as little damaged to the brain as possible and the heads preserved for laboratory testing. In either case, the follow-up to an animal bite is called post-exposure prophylaxis.

Anti-rabies prophylaxis

Animal type

Evaluation and disposition


Dogs, cats, and ferrets

Healthy and available for 10-day observation

Person should not be vaccinated unless animal develops clinical signs.

Rabid or suspected rabid

Immediate vaccination.


Consult local health officials.

Raccoons, skunks, foxes, most carnivores, bats

Considered rabid unless proven otherwise by lab test.

Consider immediate vaccination.

Livestock, horses, rodents, rabbits and hares, other mammals

Consider on a case-by-case basis.

Consult health officials. Squirrel, hamster, guinea pig, gerbil, chipmunk, rat, mouse, rabbit, hare, and other small mammal bites rarely warrant post-exposure prophylaxis.


The CDC considers rabies a medical urgency but not an emergency. That means that action should be neither delayed nor rushed. For example, it is perfectly sensible to wait during a seemingly healthy domestic animal’s 10-day quarantine. In fact, no one in the U.S. has ever developed rabies from a dog, cat, or ferret that has been quarantined for 10 days. On the other hand, people should not hesitate to channel their inner Van Helsing and sacrifice a wild animal or exotic pet; this is a case in which it’s best to euthanize first and ask questions later.

Regardless of the type of animal and the risk of rabies, however, bite wounds should be promptly tended to in order to prevent nerve or tendon laceration, local and system infection, and other complications.

First aid in case of an animal bite:

  • Wash the area with water, soap and water, or dilute water povidone-iodine solution.
  • Bandage the wound.
  • Call a doctor or visit a local emergency department.
  • Call animal control to help find the animal in case it escaped.
  • If the animal is known, gather all possible information about it, such as vaccination status.
  • At a medical facility, a doctor will further clean the wound, make a diagnosis, establish a course of treatment, etc.

If the animal is confirmed to have rabies, cannot be found, or is assumed to have rabies, or if the person tests positive for rabies – which thankfully can be determined ante-mortem – then treatment involves two types of injections:

  • A quick-acting shot administered near the bite site as soon as possible.
  • A series of shots to the arm given to assist the body in detecting and fighting the infection.

Fortunately, there are several measures that can be taken to prevent rabies in humans and animals.

Rabies prevention



  • Bring your pet to a veterinarian regularly and keep rabies shots updated for all dogs, cats, and ferrets.
  • Keep cats and ferrets indoors and directly supervise dogs.
  • Spay or neuter pets to help reduce the population of unwanted/uncared for animals.
  • Report all stray animals to animal control.
  • Avoid contact with unknown or wild animals.
  • Get vaccinated if you work in or travel to high risk areas.
  • Keep bats out of your home.


Related Read:

- Early symptoms of Chagas disease

- About Rabies

- Diseases and Conditions: Rabies

- When should I seek medical attention?