This article is from the Canine Medical Information FAQ, by Cindy Tittle Moore with numerous contributions by others.
Rabies is probably the oldest and most well known (if also
misunderstood) of the diseases that can affect almost all warm blooded
mammals. Dogs are easily vaccinated against rabies: most counties and
cities require that all dogs be vaccinated before they can get their
dog licences, and veterinarians must report all the dogs they
vaccinate. Thus it has one of the highest compliance rates of all the
routine dog vaccinations available.
Rabies is transmitted by body fluids -- urine, saliva, or blood.
Ironically, if your dog tangles with a rabid animal, you may be more
at risk than your dog, since your dog is the one with regular rabies
shots whereas these are rarely administered to humans.
For rabies to infect you, it must come in contact with the skin or be
ingested. Dogs and cats can ingest it by getting the saliva or blood
of a rabid animal in their mouths where it will be absorbed through
the mucous membranes. Humans are particularly at risk since we have so
many minute cuts in our skin, that if we touch our dog or cat after
he/she has met a rabid animal, we can become infected.
Keep in mind that bites are the most common way for humans to contract
rabies from dogs, although other routes are possible. Some other
methods, such as urine spray from flying bats have been documented as
a means of transmitting rabies, but you are unlikely to encounter dogs
Rabies cannot be detected by a blood test since it invades the neural
system. The only detection at this time is by examining the brain
after death for signs of the infection. The incubation time is 3-6
months, which is why the standard quarantine for animals in some
countries is 6 months.
Call the local health inspector, animal control officer, or police if
your dog or cat has tangled with another animal that you suspect might
be rabid. Dogs and cats which have been vaccinated against rabies
should wear a tag at all times when not in the house to prevent being
destroyed to check for rabies. Most veterinarians will recommend
another booster as soon as possible if the dog has been bit or is
suspected to have been bit. The sooner the better to help protect
against the virus before it has time to spread.
_Just Bats_, Brock Fenton, University of Toronto, 1983, page 140.