Rabies is a fatal but preventable viral disease which affects dogs
and other mammals. If your dog becomes infected with the rabies virus a
range of severe neurological symptoms will cause death.
How can my dog contract the Rabies Virus?
Rabies is transmitted by the body fluids of an affected
animal. Animals that commonly carry rabies include mammals such as bats,
foxes, and raccoons. Domestic animals like dogs and cats as well as
people are most commonly exposed by being bitten by an affected animal.
About the Rabies Vaccine
Because rabies is fatal, vaccinating against it has been
regulated by state legislatures. Your veterinarian’s recommendations for
rabies vaccination will reflect your state’s laws.
Rabies vaccines come labeled as effective for 1 year or 3 years. The
vaccine itself is the same. The only difference is the label. A vaccine
labeled as good for only 1 year will not, by law, be considered good for
longer than that period. It does not legally matter that it is the same
vaccine as the 3 year vaccine.
Common negative reactions dogs have to rabies vaccines include
soreness at the site of injection, a bump at the site of injection, hair
loss at the site of injection, lethargy for 24 hours after the
injection, mild gastro-intestinal upset for 24 hours after the
injection, hives, and facial swelling. Rarely dogs can have a severe
anaphylactic reaction to the rabies vaccine which requires immediate
veterinary attention. As a veterinary technician for over 10 years, I
have only seen 1 dog have such a severe reaction. The dog recovered
Does my dog need the Rabies Vaccine?
Find out about the risk
level in your area. You can contact your local health department as well
as your veterinarian to find out how common rabies is in your area. The
CDC in the United States publishes incidence rates for rabies annually.
Here is an example:
Next find out what your state and local requirements are legally for
vaccination. In the United States, most states require puppies be
vaccinated once with rabies around 4 months of age, boostered 12 months
later, and then boostered every 3 years thereafter. In a few localities
rabies vaccines are required annually.
Generally it is wise to protect our dogs against fatal diseases,
particularly if they are zoonotic (able to be passed from our pets to
human) like the rabies virus. Healthy dogs should generally be
vaccinated according to law. Dogs with health problems precluding
vaccination such as diseases of the immune system, cancer, certain
infections, or extreme old age should be vaccinated with caution. This
means you should carefully discuss the risks of vaccination with your
veterinarian. I recommend finding out if a waiver is accepted by law in
your locality. This means with a waiver, they could not require your dog
be euthanized for rabies testing. They would only require your dog to be