What to do if a pet dog is potentially bitten by a stray who may or may not have been at risk for rabies?

  • Unlike many other infectious diseases, rabies can be prevented with timely immunization that adheres to WHO (World Health Organization) recommendations (Giesen, Alexandra, Dieter Gniel, and Claudius Malerczyk. “30 years of rabies vaccination with Rabipur: a summary of clinical data and global experience.” Expert review of vaccines 14.3 (2015): 351-367. Page on tandfonline.com).
  • Here is the AVMA’s (American Veterinary Medical Association) advice (Rabies):

Scenario 1: A vaccinated animal is bitten by a potentially or known rabid animal
Pets (dogs, cats, ferrets)
If currently vaccinated, these pets should be re-vaccinated  immediately, and watched closely by their owner for any clinical signs  of illness for 45 days. The owner should report any signs of illness  immediately to their veterinarian, and the veterinarian should report  any suspect case immediately to the local health department. If signs  suggestive of rabies develop, the animal should be immediately  euthanatized and the head shipped for testing.
Pets overdue for booster vaccinations at the time of exposure should  be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, based on the severity of the  exposure, the number of prior vaccinations, time elapsed since the last  vaccination, the animal’s current health status, and the local area’s  rabies variants and epidemiology. If signs suggestive of rabies develop,  the animal should be immediately euthanatized and the head shipped for  testing Scenario 2: A non-vaccinated animal is bitten by a potentially or known rabid animal
There are currently no USDA-licensed biologics for postexposure rabies  prophylaxis of unvaccinated animals. The exposed animal should be  euthanatized immediately. If the owner is not willing to euthanatize the  animal, the animal must be kept in strict isolation, in an enclosure  and with no direct contact with humans or other animals, for 6 months.  If signs suggestive of rabies develop, the animal should be immediately  euthanatized and the head shipped for testing’.

  • Also see Page on nasphv.org for more detailed information and instructions.
  • You say you started your dog on his rabies shots a couple of days later, which is acceptable for a vaccinated dog.
  • Was your dog previously vaccinated for rabies? There are local rules and regulations for dog rabies and I assume you follow them.
  • If your dog wasn’t vaccinated, decision on what to do next should be made by your veterinarian, who should examine your dog very carefully for signs of bite wounds. The veterinarian will know much better than you or I how best to assess risk in this situation and what to do next.
  • Did you take the stray dog in to the veterinarian for examination?  If you didn’t, it was unquestionably risky, both for you, your dog and anyone else who came in contact with the stray while he was with you.
  • Stray dogs should be immediately taken to a veterinarian for complete health examination and shots, especially rabies. Some countries catch and vaccinate strays and tattoo/mark/chip them before releasing them so only by examining the stray could a veterinarian know if s/he’d been vaccinated or not.
  • What did you do with the dead stray? Just disposed of it or took it in to a veterinarian to help with the disposing of the body? If you did the former, it’s difficult to say anything with any certainty. After all, without a physical body, it’s impossible to diagnose if the stray died of rabies.

You also need to read fully and carefully ‘What every dog owner should know about rabies‘ (Dog Owner’s Guide: Rabies) to learn rabies signs and prevention. Since the stray is dead, only you can now answer for yourself if he showed any signs of rabies as described:

  • Clinical signs

There are three phases to the course of the disease: prodromal,  furious, and paralytic. Death occurs three to-seven days from the onset  of signs.
The prodomal stage lasts two-to-three days. The  signs can include behavioral changes, fever, slow eye reflexes, and  chewing at the bite site.
The furious stage lasts two-to-four days. During  this stage, signs of erratic behavior may include irritability,  restlessness, barking, aggression, vicious attacks on inanimate objects,  and unexplained roaming. Disorientation and seizures may also develop.
The paralytic stage lasts two-to-four days, during  which signs of paralysis develop, usually beginning in the limb that was  bitten. Paralysis of the throat and face cause a change in the bark,  drooling with typical foaming at the mouth, and a dropped jaw. These  signs are followed by depression, coma, and death from respiratory  paralysis.
Once clinical signs develop, there is no treatment

  • Prevention in pets

All dogs and cats should be vaccinated against rabies according to  local rules and regulations. Wild animals kept as pets should never be  vaccinated, and contact with wild animals should be avoided. The  recommendations for a pet bitten by a wild animal or a known rabid  animal are as follows:
If the pet has been vaccinated, re-vaccinate and quarantine for 90 days.
If the pet has not been vaccinated, euthanize and submit tissue for  rabies testing. If the owner is unwilling to euthanize the pet, it  should be strictly quarantined for six months with vaccination one month  prior to release.
As strict as this protocol sounds, it is the proper procedure to ensure that no one else is infected with this deadly disease‘.

  • In the US, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) also recommends, ‘Unvaccinated dogs, cats, and ferrets exposed to a rabid animal should be euthanized immediately. If the owner is unwilling to have this done, the animal should be placed in strict isolation for 6 months and vaccinated 1 month before being released‘ (CDC – Pet Risks – Rabies). In your case, it may now be impossible to know whether or not your dog was exposed to a rabid animal. Your veterinarian needs to determine risk level and accordingly decide the next step.

Rabies Risk to Domestic Dogs

  • Risk of rabies depends on how likely it is that the other dog had rabies.
  • Rabies prevalence in dogs, domestic and feral, greatly differs between countries.
  • According to a 2011 WHO report on rabies, ‘Canine rabies has been eliminated from western Europe, Canada, the United States of America (USA), Japan, Malaysia and a few Latin American countries’ (World Health Organization. “WHO Expert Consultation on Rabies. Second report.” World Health Organization technical report series 982 (2013): 1. Page on apps.who.int).
  • For example, in the US, rabies has been practically, not completely, eliminated from domestic dogs.


  • Reason it’s not yet completely eliminated from domestic US dogs is because it still exists in US wild animals who can and do transmit it to domestic pets.
  • Most wild animals with rabies are never detected and so die without the case being documented. Thus accurate estimate of rabies prevalence among wild animals isn’t possible.
  • So, if you live in the US, chances are minimal that the stray had rabies or that he may have passed it on to your dog. In fact a 2009 surveillance report states that ‘the United States has been free from dog-to-dog transmission of rabies since 2004‘ (Blanton, Jesse D., et al. “Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2008.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 235.6 (2009): 676-689. Page on avma.org).
  • OTOH, there are sporadic reports of dog rabies through imported dogs (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC. “Rabies in a dog imported from Iraq–New Jersey, June 2008.” MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report 57.39 (2008): 1076. Rabies in a Dog Imported from Iraq — New Jersey, June 2008).
  • Also, if you live in the US, rabies is a notifiable disease, meaning health authorities have to report it to the government. According to the CDC, ‘A notifiable disease is one for which regular, frequent, and timely information regarding individual cases is considered necessary for the prevention and control of the disease‘ (Page on cdc.gov). Thus, a US veterinarian has to report to local health authorities any case of rabies they see in their practice.