Rabies, it's not just another vaccine

I am not entirely sure how many of you know, but I am one of a growing number of people who are following limited vaccine protocols and who are using titers to test for immunity instead of just vaccinating. I do have concerns about the over vaccination of dogs. Vaccines, while vital for puppies and initial immunity, do have a level of risk involved and bombarding the system with these viruses/bacteria each year in the name of immunity just doesn’t seem right. We humans do not get vaccines yearly throughout our entire lives for major diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, etc. It is well known that with a few boosters as children, that we achieve ‘lifetime immunity’. Why would it not be the same for dogs?

But today’s post isn’t about vaccine protocols–I may share what I do in a future post, but since I am not a veterinarian, I cannot give advice about what others should do.

What I want to talk to everyone about today is the Rabies vaccine. In most states in the US, people are required to vaccinate for rabies every 3 years for dogs who had an initial 1 yr vaccine. Although the rabies vaccine can, very rarely, cause some horrible side effects and adverse reactions, it’s one of the vaccines that owners really should never skip (*if it is required by law to be up to date and the dog is healthy enough to have the vaccine).

It’s not a matter of the vaccine wearing off after 3 years. I am confident that it is NOT necessary for immunity reasons to vaccinate every 3 years–I believe recent research has shown that the rabies vaccine showed a minimum duration of immunity of 7 years.

So why then would I be so adamant that dogs, where legally required, be kept up to date on a vaccine that has potential for bad adverse reactions? Well, I personally think it is in the best interest of the dog and handler.

For the handler, there are possible fines if a dog is found not to be up to date on rabies (*some states have adopted medical exception clauses that allow medically fragile dogs to go unvaccinated). Most boarding, training, grooming facilities require proof of rabies before accepting in a new pet. Most spay/neuter clinics will not operate on a dog who does not have up to date rabies.

Those repercussions are nothing like what a dog can face.

If a dog is unvaccinated against rabies they are at risk of some pretty scary legal punishments. In most states a the actions/wounds that can be reported as a “dog bit” can include bites that don’t break the skin (tearing clothing or leaving bruises), dog bites that break skin, and even dog scratches. If a dog that has “bitten” is reported and is unvaccinated, that dog is subject to, at a minimum, a 10-14 day quarantine this is often done at a shelter/pound/vet/boarding facility (with the humnan footing the bill for boarding) to see if there are any symptoms of rabies. In some places, however, the dogs are permitted to be seized and euthanized to test for rabies. There is also a risk for euthanasia if an unvaccinated animal comes in contact with an animal known to have rabies.

A few years ago, locally, a rabid raccoon was found in a park and an announcement was made for people to come forward if they saw any people/dogs interacting with raccoons at this park. Unfortunately one of the dogs who was suspected with coming in contact with the rabid raccoon was ultimately euthanized because he/she wasn’t up to date with his/her rabies vaccine. Just yesterday the Associated Press reported that in New Mexico 32 pet dogs have been euthanized due to exposure to rabid animals because they were not up to date on their rabies vaccines (some were too young).

The repercussions for an unvaccinated dog involved in a dog bite incident or simply known to have interacted with a rabid animal can be extreme. Euthanasia is a real risk for some of these dogs and at best the dog faces a quarantine and the owner faces fines.

As much as I firmly believe the vaccine provides more than 3 years of immunity, the potential fallout for not vaccinating for rabies is too high of a risk in my opinion. So please, if you live in an area that has a rabies vaccine law, follow the law. If you live in a state with a medical exception clause and your dog can be medically exempt, go for it, just make sure it’s legal and through the correct channels.

  1. My opinions on the rabies vaccine are quite similar to yours. I used to think the requirements are a bit ridiculous as there have been so few cases of rabies in the past thirty years. However, perhaps there have been so few simply because the vaccine is doing it’s job. In fact, there was an outbreak in Newfoundland just this week that has a lot of people scared, especially rescue organizations who may have adopted out dogs with the virus.

    I guess it depends on the dog. Certainly if a pet is at severe risk of reaction, there should be a little leeway.

  2. Frankly, I never much thought about it until recently.

    There’s another blog, Champion of My Heart (http://championofmyheart.com/) , where her dog, Lilly, is slowly recovering from horrible inflammation and other things from a rabies vaccine reaction. Such a thing just breaks my heart, and really makes me leery of vaccines….but also leery about not doing vaccines. It’s a tough thing.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. While I fully believe my dogs are protected by the vaccines they have already received, and have taken them off the regular yearly vaccine protocols, I will continue to get them their rabies vaccine as often as required by state law (3 years in Oregon).

    My dog was actually bitten by a coyote at one of our city parks over the summer. It took some calling around to find out what I needed to do, but in the end, because she was up to date on her rabies vaccine, I was just told to keep a close watch for any symptoms (rabies was not a problem in coyotes in the area at the time). Had she not been up to date, she would have been facing anywhere from a 14 day to a 6 month quarantine period. To me, that is well worth the risks associated with the vaccine.

  4. I think we are on the same exact page. I titer for Distemper and Parvo, but I get the dogs their Rabies every three years.

    And for my indoor cats, Rabies is the only vaccine I get at all. (I stopped giving the others to my cats since I don’t plan on getting any more cats and they never go outdoors.)

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