Do Rabid Dogs Really Foam at the Mouth?

We can all conjure up an images of a rabid dog, but is it accurate?

By | Posted: November 17, 2014, 8 a.m. PST

"It would perhaps not be amiss to point out that he had always tried to be a good dog. He had tried to do all the things his MAN and his WOMAN, and most of all his BOY, had asked or expected of him. He would have died for them, if that had been required. He had never wanted to kill anybody. He had been struck by something, possibly destiny, or fate, or only a degenerative nerve disease called rabies. Free will was not a factor.” ---Stephen King, Cujo. 


Resistance is futile. Cujo gradually succumbed to the effects of the disease, becoming increasingly sensitive to noises, aggressive and foaming at the mouth. He set the standard for the vision of a drooling, foaming rabid dog, but is this really how a rabid dog looks—and acts? 

Cujo may have been an overachiever when it came to the rabid urge to kill, but some of what he displayed was accurate. Rabid animals do often drool excessively. But as we’ll see later, not as a rule at the same time they’re attacking. The drooling occurs because the virus causes painful spasms of the muscles that control breathing and swallowing, and swallowing eventually becomes so painful the dog avoids it. Just looking at water can even cause painful spasms, which is how the word hydrophobia (fear of water) came into being. The infected salivary glands also produce too much saliva, and since it hurts too much to swallow it, the saliva pools in the mouth and eventually drains out as drool or foam. This is complicated by the fact that as the muscles of the jaw become paralyzed, the lower jaw tends to hang open. Pretty, eh?

But just because a dog is foaming at the mouth, don’t assume he has rabies (of course, especially if you don’t know him, maybe you should assume it to be on the safe side!). Excessive foaming or drooling can be caused by a foreign object in the mouth, getting a bad-tasting substance in the mouth (even getting too close to some toads will do it), or problems with the throat or tonsils.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most cases of rabies in the United States occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. But dogs, cats and other domestic animals also get rabies, and these are the ones we let our guard down around. The number of human deaths from rabies in the United States has declined from more than 100 annually at the turn of the century to one or two per year currently. In 2010, 48 states and Puerto Rico reported 6,153 cases of rabies in animals and 2 human cases to the CDC. Worldwide, rabies causes about 26,000 to 55,000 deaths annually, almost all in Asia and Africa. In these areas dogs are the major reservoir of the disease. 

Back to Cujo. Do all rabid dogs attack? No.

Rabies has three stages. In the first stage, which lasts two to four days, the dog may chew at the bite site, lose his appetite, run a fever, and show some slight behavioral changes. 

It’s the second stage, which lasts two to three days, during which he may exhibit the mad-dog symptoms. He’ll become restless, may roam, may lose fear of his natural enemies, and may attack anything, even inanimate objects. 

Finally, in the third stage, the muscles of the jaw and throat become paralyzed, his lower jaw tends to hang open, and he drools and foams at the mouth. The paralysis spreads to the rest of his body, and he dies. Some dogs skip over the second stage and seem to go directly to the third stage, so not all rabid dogs go mad. And attacking dogs usually don’t drool, since the two symptoms occur at different stages of the illness.

But if you see a dog foaming at the mouth or biting at anything that moves, don’t try to second-guess things. Run away! Or, well, sneak away. And call the authorities.

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Eileen - 249708   Port Perry, ON

11/18/2014 2:32:14 AM

Thanks for the information on the sign of rabies!

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