Do Mice Carry Rabies To Dogs?

Rabies, a disease caused by the rabies virus, has been feared throughout history as one of the most dangerous infectious diseases known to humans and animals. An estimated 59,000 humans die every year from rabies worldwide. While rabies has been largely controlled in the United States and other developed countries through vaccination of pets, it remains a serious public health threat globally where canine rabies is endemic.

Rabies is mainly spread through bites from infected animals and attacks the central nervous system of mammals, causing brain inflammation that is nearly always fatal once clinical signs appear. While all mammals are susceptible, dogs are the main global reservoir and transmitter of rabies to humans. Though rare, transmission from rodents and other small mammals is possible.

This article provides an overview of how rabies spreads, the role of rodents and dogs in transmission, the possibility of mice transmitting rabies to dogs, and information on protecting dogs from rabies. We’ll explore the signs, diagnosis, and treatment of rabies in canines. By understanding how this dangerous virus can spread between species, we can better protect our pets and communities.

How Rabies Spreads

Rabies is most commonly spread through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. The rabies virus is transmitted in the saliva of infected animals. When an infected animal bites another animal or person, the virus enters the wound and travels through the nerves to the spinal cord and brain 1.

In the United States, distinct strains of the rabies virus have been identified in bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and mongooses. Rabies frequently spreads between wildlife reservoirs and domestic animals like dogs, cats, and livestock. Bats are the most significant source of human rabies infections acquired in the United States 2.

Cross-species rabies transmission occurs when an infected animal bites or scratches an animal of another species. For example, a rabid bat might bite a raccoon, transmitting the virus to the raccoon. The infected raccoon could then bite a dog, spreading rabies to the dog. Domestic dogs are one of the main vectors for spreading rabies to humans globally.

Rabies in Rodents

Small rodents like mice, rats, squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits rarely contract rabies and do not typically transmit it to humans or other animals. According to the CDC, “Small rodents (like squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, and mice) and lagomorphs (including rabbits and hares) are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to transmit rabies to humans” (CDC).

A 2014 study found that some rodents can contract rabies from contact with infected animals, but transmission to humans is extremely rare: “Small rodents and lagomorphs are rarely identified as having rabies because most rodents are killed by larger animal predators, making submission of these animals for rabies testing infrequent” (Fitzpatrick). While mice can carry and transmit the rabies virus, documented cases of mice spreading rabies to humans or dogs are virtually nonexistent.

Rabies in Dogs

Rabies is a deadly disease in dogs if left untreated. According to the CDC, there were 63 confirmed cases of rabies in dogs in the United States in 2018, representing a 1.6% increase from 2017 [1]. Rabies is most prevalent in stray and unvaccinated dogs, but any dog is at risk if exposed to the rabies virus.

The first symptoms of rabies in dogs include fever, headache, weakness, disorientation, paralysis, seizures, and sudden behavior changes such as restlessness, aggression, and anxiety. As the disease progresses, dogs experience loss of appetite, drooling, difficulty swallowing, staggering, and convulsions. Death usually occurs within 7-10 days after symptoms begin.

There is no cure for rabies once symptoms appear. However, the disease is preventable in dogs through vaccination. The rabies vaccine is extremely effective and protects dogs for 1-3 years after administration. If a vaccinated dog is exposed to rabies, a booster shot along with additional doses of rabies antibodies are given immediately to prevent the virus from infecting the nervous system. Keeping pet dogs up to date on rabies vaccination is crucial for preventing the spread of this fatal disease.

Transmission from Mice to Dogs

Mice do not directly transmit rabies to dogs. According to the CDC, “Small rodents (like squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, and mice) and lagomorphs (including rabbits and hares) are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to transmit rabies to humans or other animals” (source).

While extremely rare, there are a few indirect ways mice could potentially transmit rabies to dogs:

  • If a rabid animal like a fox, raccoon, or bat infects a mouse, the mouse could then theoretically transmit rabies to a dog if bitten. However, rabies is almost never detected in mice according to the CDC.
  • Rabies transmission could occur if an infected mouse’s saliva entered an open wound on a dog. But again, rabies in mice is exceptionally rare.
  • A dog eating an infected mouse is technically possible but highly unlikely, as the rabies virus is fragile and typically killed by a dog’s digestive system before infection can occur (source).

There are no documented cases of mice directly transmitting rabies to dogs. While theoretically possible through indirect means, the risk is extremely low according to all available scientific data.

Protecting Dogs from Rabies

There are several key ways pet owners can protect dogs from contracting rabies:

Get dogs vaccinated regularly against rabies as required by law. Rabies vaccinations are very effective at preventing dogs from developing rabies if they are exposed. According to the CDC, “First, visit your veterinarian with your pet on a regular basis and keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all cats, ferrets, and dogs.” (Source)

Avoid contact with wild animals and rodents that could potentially be infected with rabies. Keep dogs leashed when outdoors and do not leave pet food outside that could attract wild animals. According to DC Health, “Leave stray or unknown dogs and cats alone. Leave wild animals alone.” (Source)

Get dogs immediate veterinary treatment if they are bitten or scratched by a wild animal. The rabies virus can be prevented from developing in dogs after exposure if they receive prompt medical care and a rabies booster shot.

Signs of Rabies in Dogs

The initial symptoms of rabies in dogs can be vague and non-specific. According to the CDC, the first symptoms may include lethargy, fever, vomiting, and loss of appetite (CDC). As the virus progresses in the body, more specific neurological symptoms begin to emerge within a few days.

The advanced symptoms of rabies reflect dysfunction in the dog’s nervous system. Rabid dogs may experience heightened sensitivity to light, sound, and touch. They may have seizures and paralysis, especially in the throat muscles, leading to the inability to swallow. Excessive drooling and foaming at the mouth are common.

Rabid dogs may snap at imaginary objects, exhibit restlessness, and seem anxious or agitated. They may cry out unexpectedly. In some cases, rabid dogs may become aggressive and attack people or other animals. However, some dogs in the advanced stages become very quiet and withdrawn.

Once a dog begins to show signs of rabies, the disease is nearly always fatal. For this reason, it is critical to seek veterinary care immediately if rabies is suspected. The vet can help diagnose rabies and, in some cases, may recommend euthanasia to prevent human exposure and animal suffering.

Diagnosing Rabies

Detecting rabies in dogs and other animals can be challenging for veterinarians. According to the CDC Diagnosis: In Animals and Humans – Rabies, there is no single definitive test that can diagnose rabies ante-mortem (before death) in dogs. However, there are several methods vets use to test for the disease.

The most common diagnostic test is the direct fluorescent antibody (DFA) test. This detects rabies virus antigens in a sample of the animal’s brain tissue How is rabies diagnosed? – Diagnosis. To collect a brain sample, the animal must be euthanized. The DFA test is considered the gold standard for rabies diagnosis.

Other ante-mortem tests with varying accuracy include virus isolation from saliva, tears, and skin samples, and testing for rabies viral RNA using RT-PCR. These have the benefit of not requiring euthanasia. However, they are less sensitive than DFA testing on brain tissue.

Because rabies has such high fatality rates in infected animals, vets may recommend euthanasia even in just suspected cases. While ante-mortem testing methods are improving, DFA testing on brain tissue collected after humane euthanasia remains the most reliable way to diagnose rabies.

Treating Rabies in Dogs

Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for rabies once clinical signs appear. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Once a rabies infection is established, there’s no effective treatment.” (1) The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system, causing inflammation of the brain and spinal cord that ultimately leads to death.

Medical care for dogs with rabies is primarily supportive to relieve symptoms and keep the dog comfortable. (2) Anti-inflammatory medications, anticonvulsants, sedatives, and IV fluids may be administered. Dogs suspected of having rabies are isolated to prevent transmission through saliva. However, there is no cure at this stage, and rabies is almost always fatal in dogs once clinical signs occur.

The prognosis for rabies depends on whether treatment is received before or after onset of symptoms. The rabies vaccine is highly effective for prevention if given before exposure. However, once symptoms appear, rabies has a near 100% fatality rate in dogs. With supportive medical care, dogs typically survive only a few days after symptom onset before succumbing to the disease. (3) For this reason, rabies prevention through vaccination is critical to protecting dogs from this fatal virus.


In summary, while mice can carry rabies, the chances of them transmitting it directly to dogs is low. Mice are not common carriers of rabies compared to larger wildlife like raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats. Additionally, dogs usually get rabies from being bitten by rabid animals, not simply coming into contact with them. As a dog owner, focus more on protecting your dog from the bites of known rabies carriers, keeping their vaccinations up to date, and watching for clinical signs of rabies instead of worrying about mice.

The key takeaway is that while possible, it is very rare for mice to transmit rabies directly to dogs. So while mice should be avoided, especially wild mice, the chances of them spreading rabies to a dog is minimal compared to other wildlife. Keeping your dog vaccinated and away from the bites of known rabies carriers is the best way to protect them.

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