by Martin T. Coffman, DVM
Field dogs are at higher risk for rabies than most pets. Exposure to wildlife and deserted areas make it important that the gundog owner have a working knowledge of this disease for their own protection as well as their gundog.
Rabies is caused by a virus and is, almost invariably, fatal. It affects the nerve tissues of all mammals including man. Nearly 100% of all dogs will succumb within 10 days of the beginning of symptoms.
The virus usually enters the body through a wound (usually a bite from a rabid animal) but can also enter through the eye. The virus spreads through the body on the nerves and eventually gets to the brain where it causes the classic symptoms. The virus also accumulates in the salivary gland in large quantities, which makes it easier for the organism to spread via a bite.
The incidence of rabies is low but in certain areas of the country, it can be common. Almost all dogs that get bitten by a rabid animal will develop the disease.
Rabies is found worldwide with a few exceptions (New Zealand, the British Isles, Australia, Japan, and others). It is most common in underdeveloped countries with poor vaccination requirements.
In the United States, there are four viruses that are specific for their species: raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Unfortunately, all four of these virus types are contagious to the dog.
Symptoms of rabies involve the nervous system: change in attitude; apprehension, anxiety, biting, chewing at wounds, biting at cage, wandering, disorientation; paralysis, and excess frothing at the mouth.
The kennel veterinarian should vaccinate all gundogs with any potential for exposure to wildlife or other dogs for rabies. Some states allow owners to vaccinate their own dogs for rabies but this is one time it is smarter to let the doctor do it. If your dog bites someone, the first question that comes up is: "Has he had his shots?" If you did the vaccination yourself, even if you have a mail-order receipt and a tag, there really is no documentation that you actually gave the vaccine correctly. If your veterinarian administered the vaccine, the legal questions will go to him or her instead of you. Rabies is one of those diseases we read about but never think about. It only takes one incident with a rabid skunk or bat to destroy a dog we have loved for years. Keep your gundog up to date on that rabies vaccination according to your states laws.