Rabies Symptoms in Humans & Pets (+ How Not to Get Infected!)

August 13, 2017  —  By

Recognize rabies symptoms - Dr. Axe

Approximately 55,000 individuals worldwide die from an infection due to the rabies virus. This disease is nearly 100 percent fatal in humans. So knowing how to prevent and treat the virus before rabies symptoms develop is extremely important. To date, only seven individuals have survived rabies after symptoms have developed. Education about rabies and rabies symptoms is key to reduce the risk of exposure to this deadly disease. (1)

The World Health Organization reports that every year more than 15 million people around the world are vaccinated after exposure to the rabies virus. This is estimated to prevent hundreds of thousands of rabies deaths every year. (2) Because early diagnosis of rabies is difficult — and once rabies symptoms develop it’s usually too late to undo the damage done to the central nervous system — preventing the transmission of rabies is the most important preventive measure.

In the United States, the incidence of rabies has decreased by over 95 percent in humans and 98 percent in dogs. This is due to effective policies that focus on raising public awareness of rabies symptoms and risks, implementing dog vaccinations and using post-exposure immunizations when needed. Researchers agree that being aware of rabies symptoms is one of the most important preventive strategies. This allows humans to detect exposure to the rabies virus in domestic animals, like dogs, and even wild animals before they can spread it to humans. There are also natural ways to boost your immune system to help you to recover from rabies after immunization treatment. This includes the use of antiviral herbs, anti-inflammatory foods and healing essential oils. However, vaccination is an absolute must.

What Is Rabies?

Rabies is an extremely dangerous viral disease that can be fatal once symptoms develop. The virus belongs to the order Mononegavirales. These are viruses with a distinct “bullet shape” and are classified as part of the Rhabdoviridae family.

The virus can infect humans and both domestic and wild animals. Ninety-five percent of human deaths caused by rabies occur in regions of Asia and Africa, but rabies is present on all continents, except Antarctica. It most frequently occurs in poor, remote and rural locations where vaccines may not be available or accessible. Even after exposure to rabies, the average cost of treatment can be too much of a financial burden for people living in low-income countries. Treatment costs about 40 dollars in Africa and 49 dollars in Asia. Meanwhile, the average daily income is only 1–2 dollars per person. (3)

Rabies Symptoms

Rabies in Humans

It typically takes one to three months after being exposed to rabies for symptoms to develop. But the incubation period can vary from one week to one year. Scientists suggest that the incubation period may be shorter in children and in people bitten closer to the central nervous system, such as in the head. (4)

The first signs and symptoms of rabies include:

  • fever
  • fatigue and weakness
  • general discomfort
  • pain at wound site
  • a tingling and prickling sensation at wound site
  • a burning sensation at wound site

During this initial phase of the virus, an infected person may also notice rabies symptoms affecting one or more body systems. These symptoms may include:

  • sore throat
  • cough
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • partial paralysis
  • irritability and nervousness
  • vertigo
  • headache
  • insomnia
  • nightmares
  • hallucinations
  • increased saliva
  • depression

When you are exposed to the rabies virus, it enters the peripheral nervous system. Then it migrates to the brain. It can replicate in your muscle tissue near the bite or wound where it entered. The virus begins to spread to other tissues and organs in the body and eventually it spreads to the central nervous system where it causes fatal inflammation of the spinal cord and brain.

Once the virus has spread to the central nervous system, the majority of people develop signs of furious rabies, which involves severe and unusual symptoms such as hyperactivity, irregular breathing, hypersalivation, excitable behavior, fear of water (called hydrophobia) and fear of fresh air (called aerophobia). For people with furious rabies, death usually occurs within a few days as a result of cardio-respiratory arrest. (5)

In about 30 percent of human cases, the course of the disease is less sudden than furious rabies. This is called paralytic rabies and it involves an infected person becoming paralyzed at the site of the bite or scratch, which then spreads into the muscles throughout the body. Eventually, paralytic rabies leads to coma and death.

Rabies in Pets

Domestic pets are not considered high-risk for transmitting rabies, but it can happen. So it’s important to know the warning signs of rabies exposure in animals. If your pet dog, cat, horse or livestock display the following rabies symptoms or behaviors, he or she may have been exposed to the virus (6):

  • abnormal behavior
  • seizures
  • weakness
  • difficulty swallowing
  • paralyzed leg or legs
  • changes in bark or vocalization
  • decreased appetite
  • unusually aggressive when typically friendly
  • unusually friendly when typically aggressive (this commonly applies to wild animals)

If your pet has bite wounds that are either new or old, that is another warning sign of rabies exposure. And if you notice any dead wild animals around your house or yard that could have carried the virus, like a bat, raccoon or squirrel, your pet could be at risk of exposure to — and transmitting — the virus.

If you notice any of these rabies symptoms in your pet, call your local animal control center immediately. Your pet will be captured and placed in a 10-day confinement where he or she will be observed and examined.

Rabies symptoms - Dr. Axe

Rabies Causes & Risk Factors

Rabies in humans is almost always caused by a deep bite or scratch from an infected animal. Exposure to rabies includes any bite, scratch or other situation that involves saliva from a rabid animal entering an open wound or break in the skin. If saliva from a rabid animal comes into contact with mucous membranes by entering the mouth, nose or eyes, this can also cause the spread of rabies. (7)

In 99 percent of cases, rabies is transmitted to humans by rabid dogs. In regions where vaccines are accessible, such as the United States, Australia and Western Europe, bats are a major source of human rabies. Wild or stray animals can also spread human rabies.

Some wild, stray or feral animals are considered high-risk because these animals are more likely to be infected with — and transmit — rabies. These high-risk animals include raccoons, red and gray foxes, skunks, bobcats, coyotes, groundhogs, beavers and other large carnivores. Bats, wolf hybrids and stray cats and dogs are also considered high-risk animals.

Low-risk animals are those that are unlikely to be infected with rabies, unless they have been exposed to the virus and show rabies symptoms like unprovoked attack and signs of bite wounds. These animals include rodents, such as mice, rats, moles, squirrels and chipmunks, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs and opossums. Domestic animals are also considered low-risk. These include dogs, cats, ferrets, livestock and horses. These low-risk animals can transmit rabies, but it happens rarely and only when the animal has come into contact with the virus through another animal.

And, finally, there are no-risk animals that can’t transmit rabies. These animals are birds, reptiles, fish, insects and amphibians. (8)

6 Natural Ways to Help Boost Your Immune System

The only immediate treatment for rabies is called post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP. PEP prevents the rabies virus from entering the central nervous system, which brings on fatal rabies symptoms. Depending on the severity of the bite or scratch from an animal that is suspected of having rabies, PEP treatment typically involves extensive wound washing, immediate vaccination and, in severe cases, the administration of rabies immunoglobulin. When it’s used quickly after exposure to the virus, PEP treatment is nearly 100 percent effective. In order to boost your immune system and promote your body’s ability to heal after PEP treatment, consider trying some of these natural remedies:

1. Wash the Wound Thoroughly

The absolute first step of treatment after being exposed to rabies through an animal bite or scratch is to wash the wound or exposed area immediately. Initially, you shouldn’t do this on your own, but with the help of medical staff at a physician’s office or emergency department. If you haven’t made it to the hospital or medical office yet, begin to wash the wound yourself by using soap and clean water for at least 15 minutes. (9)

2. Eat Immune-Boosting and Anti-Inflammatory Foods

In order to fight and fully recover from any type of viral infection, you need to take a close look at your diet. If you’re eating a lot of inflammatory foods, like sugary foods and beverages, refined carbohydrates, packaged and processed foods, then you are only making the body’s healing process more difficult. Instead, focus on eating immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory foods that are full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. (10)

The best food choices to speed healing after being exposed to rabies include:

  • leafy greens, like spinach, kale and chard
  • nutrient-dense vegetables, like bok choy, celery, broccoli and beets
  • fresh fruit, especially berries and citrus fruits
  • wild fish, especially salmon
  • organic meat, like grass-fed beef 
  • nuts and seeds, like walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds
  • healthy fats, like avocado and coconut oil
  • anti-inflammatory spices, such as ginger and turmeric
  • homemade bone broth or protein powder made from bone broth

3. Try Echinacea

Echinacea is an antiviral herb that supports the immune system and inhibits bacteria and viruses from penetrating healthy cells. Echinacea benefits also include its ability to reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, treat respiratory issues and improve mental health. Research shows echinacea has immunological and pharmacologic potential, and it can be used to help heal infections. (11)

Using echinacea alone won’t treat rabies. But if you’ve been exposed to the disease and received PEP treatment, using echinacea under the guidance of your healthcare provider can help to speed healing.

4. Use Astragalus Root

Astragalus root is a powerful antiviral herb used to stimulate the body’s immune system. It’s an adaptogen herb that lowers cortisol levels and reduces inflammation, thereby helping your body to heal faster. An animal study published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules found that astragalus (and echinacea) encouraged the cellular immune response in mice and dogs that were treated with rabies-neutralizing antibodies. Researchers suggest that astragalus may be effective as adjuvant therapy along with rabies immunizations and vaccinations after exposure to the virus. (12)

5. Apply Myrrh Essential Oil

Myrrh oil has anti-infective, antiseptic and antimicrobial properties. It can be used to heal wounds, stop bleeding and strengthen the immune system. Myrrh oil can be helpful in cleaning a bite from an animal infected with rabies. After the initial cleaning of the wound by medical professionals, use myrrh oil to speed up healing and reduce pain at the site of rabies exposure.

To use myrrh to clean your wound or scratch, mix 3–4 drops of myrrh with a teaspoon of coconut or jojoba oil and, using a clean cotton ball, apply the mixture directly to the area of concern. (13)

6. Use Oregano Essential Oil

Oregano oil promotes healing and it has immune-boosting properties. It helps to fight viral infections, thanks to the two main compounds in oregano, carvacrol and thymol. After exposure to rabies, PEP treatment will work to kill the virus so that you don’t develop deadly rabies symptoms. But using oregano oil in addition to PEP treatment will allow your immune system to bounce back and will work to keep you healthy during your hospital stay after treatment. Again, only use oregano oil and other natural remedies for rabies under the guidance of your health care provider. (14)

How to Prevent Rabies

It goes without saying that preventing the spread of rabies is extremely important, especially because this virus is deadly once symptoms develop. To prevent the transmission of rabies to humans or animals, you should:

  • Know the symptoms: Animal behavior changes after exposure to the virus, so being aware of rabies symptoms can allow humans to take immediate precautions, thereby preventing your exposure to the disease. Many times, people don’t realize after a dog scratch or bite that they have been exposed to the virus. And because the initial symptoms of rabies in humans are very much like the symptoms of other infections, it’s not obvious that you’ve come into contact with a life-threatening virus. By looking out for rabies symptoms in your pet or in wild animals, like abnormal behavior, difficulty swallowing, seizures and paralyzed legs, you will know to call animal control services before the animal can spread the disease.
  • Vaccinate your pet: Unvaccinated domestic animals, including dogs, cats, ferrets and horses may be exposed to a rabid animal and would have to be euthanized immediately. If your pet is already vaccinated and comes into contact with an infected animal, he or she would have to be kept in confinement and observed for at least 10 days. To prevent the spread of rabies from a wild animal — to your pet and then to yourself or your family — it’s best to vaccinate your pet. (15)
  • Consider pre-exposure immunization (if you’re considered high-risk): Pre-exposure immunization for rabies is available. People who are at a higher risk of coming into contact with the rabies virus should consider it. This includes people who work with animals that may be infected with rabies; people who work in labs and handle live rabies or rabies-related viruses; and people traveling to remote, rabies-affected areas who plan to spend a lot of time outdoors. Children who live in or are planning to visit rabies-affected areas should also be considered for immunization, especially if they play with animals. (16)


There is no natural treatment for rabies once you’ve been exposed to the virus. You need to receive immediate vaccination, and sometimes immunization, in order to survive. But there are natural ways to help speed up the healing process. That’s where the anti-viral and immune-boosting remedies come into play. However, these remedies should not be used in place of a vaccination if you’ve been exposed to the virus. And you should only use these treatments under the care of your doctor.

Final Thoughts

  • Rabies is an extremely dangerous viral disease that can be fatal once symptoms develop.
  • Ninety-five percent of human deaths caused by rabies occur in regions of Asia and Africa. But rabies is present on all continents, except Antarctica.
  • During the initial phase of the virus, an infected person may notice rabies symptoms affecting one or more body systems. These symptoms include sore throat, nausea, joint pain, fatigue and fever. After the initial phase of symptoms, the virus attacks the central nervous system and eventually leads to coma and death. Once symptoms of rabies in humans develop, the chances of survival are extremely rare.
  • In pets, rabies symptoms include abnormal behavior, seizures, aggression and difficulty swallowing.
  • Rabies in humans is almost always caused by a deep bite or scratch from an infected animal. Exposure to rabies includes any bite, scratch or other situation that involves saliva from a rabid animal entering an open wound or break in the skin.
  • If you are exposed to rabies, you must receive post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, in order to survive. After PEP treatment, you can speed healing naturally by washing your wound thoroughly, using antiviral herbs and essential oils, and eating an immune-boosting diet.

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