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Rabies in dogs

A disease transmissible to humans and still fatal, rabies is frightening even if it has been eradicated from France for a good number of years. The dog remains however a species pointed out following several imports of dogs suffering from rabies.

Rabies is a disease caused by a virus present everywhere in the world (except on the oceanic continent). In France, it remains rare but the risk still exists.

Mode of transmission

The virus is highly concentrated in the saliva of carrier animals. The transmission of the disease is mainly by biting an animal carrying the virus, even before he has symptoms of the disease. That’s why any bite should be taken seriously, even if the animal is apparently healthy.

Symptoms of rabies

After the bite, the virus migrates into the brain before reaching the salivary glands.
This migration, called incubation, is very variable in duration, depending on the species, the bite site, the strain of virus and sometimes very long (from one month to several years). In dogs, it is on average quite short, 15 to 60 days, but there are always exceptions.
The virus reproduces and damages the brain.
The symptoms of rabies are therefore mainly nervous: changes in behavior (aggression, fear), swallowing problems, modified voice, salivation, paralysis, itching. But many very varied symptoms are possible.

There is no effective treatment: death is irreversible and occurs 4 to 5 days after the first symptoms in dogs.

The diagnosis of rabies

It is based on the evolution of nervous symptoms. That is why it is forbidden to euthanize a dog that has bitten a human being before fifteen days. Keeping him under observation is the only way to know if he was really sick or if he was able to transmit the disease.
The definitive diagnosis must however be confirmed in all cases by microscopic examination of sections of the brain and by inoculation with cells in culture in authorized laboratories.

What to do if you come into contact with wild animals?

Avoid contact with any unknown animal, especially in countries at risk.
After a bite by an animal (wild or domestic), wash the wound for a long time (at least 5 minutes) with soapy water. A doctor from a specialized institute can use an anti-rabies serum if necessary.
In humans, vaccination is strongly recommended for populations at risk (veterinarians, technicians from specialized laboratories, gamekeepers).

Prevention for dogs

Vaccination remains the safest way to prevent disease in dogs and limit its extension. We can practice it from the age of three months.

You should also know that oral vaccination campaigns of foxes have been carried out in France (bait releases by helicopter), which has greatly contributed to reducing rabies in these populations.

Rabies legislation

The severity of the disease and its possible transmission to humans have led to strict measures.
Vaccination and identification are compulsory:

  • To go abroad
  • For the introduction or reintroduction in France of any domestic carnivore
  • In some other cases: animals subject to the law on dangerous dogs.

Since France is free from rabies, the obligation to rabies vaccination of greyhounds engaged in public races and of domestic carnivores in campsites, holiday centers, exhibitions or any place of assembly is eliminated. In addition, it is no longer necessary to vaccinate against dogs and cats traveling in Corsica, in the overseas departments (Réunion, Martinique, Guadeloupe) except Guyana. For boarding houses and kennels, contact the professional directly.

You can only legally vaccinate animals over three months old.
After the first vaccination, a period for the validity of this vaccination is necessary, it is 21 days after the injection. The first booster is given a year after the primary vaccination. Later booster shots can be spaced (up to 3 years), it depends on the vaccines. If the recall is forgotten, the protocol must be repeated from the start (vaccination valid 21 days after).

Rabies vaccination is noted on the animal's passport. The passport is both the identification of your animal and its vaccines.

Biting animals

Any animal that has bitten or scratched a person must be placed under “biting dog” supervision.
The purpose of this surveillance is to prevent the development of the disease in the bitten person by ensuring that the animal does not show symptoms of rabies within fifteen days of the bite.

  • It is carried out at a veterinarian, at the diligence and expense of the dog owner or its owner. If the animal does not have an owner, the town hall takes care of it through a pound.
  • It consists of three visits to the veterinarian: the first at the earliest after the bite (less than 24 hours), the second and the third respectively 7 days and 15 days after.

The presentation to a veterinarian of a biting dog is a legal obligation which brings into play the owner's criminal responsibility (fines and prison terms). The owner is required to present his animal at the scheduled appointments and to declare as soon as possible, the disappearance of the signs of illness (or the death of the animal if applicable), to the veterinarian and to public authorities (police, town hall). He cannot separate from his animal without the authorization of the departmental director of veterinary services.

Following each visit, the veterinarian gives the owner a certificate in triplicate, attesting that he does not notice any symptoms of rabies:

  • A certificate for the person bitten or owner of the bitten animal.
  • One for the police.

The veterinarian also keeps a copy for himself and sends one to the Departmental Directorate of Social Cohesion and Protection of Populations (DDcsPP).

At the end of the visits:

  • If the animal is alive and has no symptoms, it is unlikely that it has transmitted the disease following the bite. The procedure is then finished (and the bitten person can be reassured!).
  • If the animal dies or shows symptoms compatible with rabies during the two weeks, the doctor of the anti-rabies center can make the decision to make an anti-rabies serum to the bitten patient.
  • If the animal actually dies, it will be autopsied and samples will be sent to the laboratory for a diagnosis of certainty.


Rabies is a very well-known ancient disease because it can affect humans, and there is no treatment.
It has raged for centuries in Europe and is still present today in certain countries (notably in Africa and Asia), where hundreds of people die of rabies each year.
Since the discovery of vaccination, and following vaccination campaigns for pets and foxes, rabies has disappeared from French territory.
However, it still remains a threat with the increase in the number of animals traveling to countries at risk. This is why we strongly recommend that you vaccinate your dog against rabies even if you are not traveling abroad with your pet.

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