RABIES alerts are spreading throughout the province and veterinarians and animal rights organisations are warning pet owners to be extra cautious.According to veterinarian Dr Pieter Hanekom, some animals experience symptoms which can include foaming at the mouth and wanting to bite everything. However, he said, an animal can have paralytic rabies, normally referred to as dumb rabies. “Dumb rabies is when the animal appears depressed, lethargic and unco-ordinated. Gradually they become completely paralysed. When their throat and jaw muscles are paralysed, the animals will drool and have difficulty swallowing,” said Hanekom.He said people should be wary of all stray dogs and cats, as one cannot know if the animal has the disease.“You can’t really tell if the dog has rabies but people should look out for their behaviour.“It can be more or less aggressive, and also a change in normal behaviour can mean that there’s a problem with the brain, with rabies being one of the many things it could be,” said Hanekom.When asked about the main symptoms that people can look out for if a dog has rabies, he said: “They become more aggressive and want to bite but that’s just a classic example; it’s not always like that,” said Hanekom.He explained that with dumb rabies, the dog does not co-operate, which might require the dog’s owner to take it to the vet.“If the dog is suspected of having rabies, there’s nothing a vet can do besides euthanising it and sending it to the state vet for its brain to be tested. Unfortunately, we can’t diagnose if the dog has rabies or not but if pet owners bring their animal to us, we are required to euthanise it and send it to the lab for the brain to be tested,” he said.He said euthanising it prevents the spread of the disease. “This disease is a risk to humans because the rabid dog could bite someone and infect him or her,” he said.He said people should look out because you can be in danger even if the dog licks you where you have a scar.“A rabid animal doesn’t have to bite you for you to be infected with rabies; if they lick you, you are also in danger,” said Hanekom.He said that legally, pet owners are required to vaccinate their dogs against rabies every three years but due to the high number of cases of rabies in KZN, they are required to do it every year.To find out more, contact your nearest vet or the SPCA.