How To Avoid Getting Rabies From A Stray Dog

In This Post: What to do when you encounter stray and potentially-rabid (and terrifying) dogs on your travels to keep them at bay and avoid getting bitten.

This caught me by surprise when I started backpacking in South America and Asia. How on earth had no one warned me about the dogs? There are many, many stray dogs in many countries. They are on the streets, on the beaches, even inside your hostel laying next to your bed (wtf). While these beasts dogs may look cute from afar, I assure you they will not look cute from close up when they are foaming at the mouth, ripping into your flesh, or costing you thousands in emergency medical bills. (Or, in less extreme scenarios, rubbing dirt, grime and fleas onto your body and backpack). 

Many stray dogs are friendly, but some are highly aggressive. One of the scariest moments of my life occurred in Thailand when, during my morning run, a pack of 8 dogs ran at me, circled barking and jumping with teeth bared, and bit at my (thank god pant-covered) leg. A motorbike passed by and distracted them momentarily allowing me to get away, but it was months before I ran again. Rabies is deadly, and if you don’t get treatment immediately you’re in big trouble. While it can be hard to know if a dog is infected, by the time your symptoms show up it’s simply too late. So what should you do when stray dogs abound?

How To Avoid Getting Rabies (Or Nasty Bites) From Stray/Street Dogs

Get Your Rabies Vaccines

Well, this is obvious. Having the rabies shot buys you a bit more time to get to a hospital (for more shots), which can be huge if you’re in a remote or rural location when you get bit. Unfortunately if you are from the United States rabies vaccines cost upwards of a thousand dollars, but I still might recommend getting it. I’ve considered paying out of pocket to get it abroad while on the road, just to have it (and to pay less). The peace of mind is worth it, because people do get bitten.I met several people who got bitten and had to get treatment while traveling.

Don’t Touch the Dogs

Seriously, though. The number of people I saw touching, petting, playing with, sticking their hands into these dogs’ mouths was astounding. They are sad and cute – yes! – but they can also kill you even by accident. Did you know a dog doesn’t actually have to bite you to transmit rabies? If you get any infected saliva into an existing open wound or get lightly scratched with an infected nail – that’s it. RABIES.  So I don’t know, maybe don’t touch the stray dogs (or at least be careful).

Move Slowly & Stay Calm

The two times I was almost attacked by dogs I was running, and in a way that the dogs perceived as a threat (downhill, towards where they were although I didn’t see them). If you mind your own business move at a normal speed and don’t threaten the pack, it’s unlikely they will attack unprovoked. If they do approach, it’s important to try to remain calm. Dogs can smell fear, so the worse thing you can do is be terrified or move quickly. If theere are dogs in a threatening manner, try to calm down then walk away very very slowly without any fast or sudden movement (do not run away). Try not to make eye contact and just look ahead as if they aren’t there and you aren’t bothered. 

Carry A “Weapon”

Sometimes, the strays get a little feisty and get too close for comfort. In these instances, always be ready to shoo them off with something. Maybe a big stick if you are hiking, maybe a massive water jug if you’re coming home from the grocery store. You don’t have to actually harm them, or even touch them, but having an item in hand can help keep a safe distance between you. 

Act Disinterested

My parents used to tell me the best way to deal with my sister when she was pestering me was to not give her the satisfaction of knowing she was irritating me. Eventually, she’d get bored and give up. This concept applies for stray dogs, too! Even if you are absolutely terrified, pretend you are not. Take it a step further, pretend you do not see the dog at all. Do not acknowledge it, speak to it, touch it, or even make eye contact with it. Just go about your business as if it isn’t there. Generally, a dog isn’t going to get excited or aggressive if it’s not getting any attention.