Rabies Vaccination

How Often Does Your Pet Need To Be Vaccinated for Rabies?



by Lorie Huston, DVMon July 30, 2011

  How often does my dog or cat need to be vaccinated against rabies? It seems like a pretty simple question, doesn’t it?

Mel Freer over at No Dog About It blog recently published a post asking if some veterinarians are lying about rabies vaccines. In this post, she asks, understandably, why some veterinarians would recommend vaccinating a dog every two years for rabies even though the vaccine administered was likely a three-year vaccine.

How Often Does a Pet Need to Receive a Rabies Vaccination?

In many cases, this is a pretty simple

question to answer. But that’s not always the case. And sometimes the answer has less to do with science than it does with local laws.

All rabies vaccines are either one- or three-year vaccines. In fact, there is strong evidence that the vaccine may provide immunity even longer than three years, but the testing has not been done to change the labeling to reflect a duration longer than three years.

Ideally, assuming that the pet owner is responsible and never allows the pet’s vaccine to lapse, the answer to the rabies vaccine question is:

The first rabies vaccine should be boostered one year following the initial vaccine. Subsequent rabies vaccinations should be administered every three years.

Seems pretty straight forward, right? Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world and, in some cases, there may be other circumstances that intervene to change this. Local laws, species differences and even an individual pet’s history of exposure may affect how often the rabies vaccine should be administered.

State and Local Laws Mandating Rabies Vaccines for Dogs and Cats

Like all citizens, veterinarians are bound to follow the laws that are mandated by the communities where we practice veterinary medicine. Most communities have laws that regulate rabies vaccination for pets. Unfortunately, there are some areas that still mandate that rabies vaccinations be administered for pets more often once every three years. This is based on out-dated information and is no longer scientifically necessary or even advisable, but some communities are slow to change, leaving their veterinarians and pet owners in a difficult situation.

The only viable option in this circumstance for veterinarians and pet owners alike is to lobby the community’s legislators to change the law to reflect more current standards. Rhode Island, where I practice, has only just recently changed its law to require a rabies vaccine every three years rather than every two years.

Do the Three-Year Rabies Vaccines Provide Adequate Protection for a Full Three Years?

Yes, absolutely they do. There is no good medical reason to fear that a three-year rabies vaccine administered to a healthy animal should not provide protection for the full three years.

While I am aware that some veterinarians may recommend rabies vaccinations every two years in an attempt to see the pet for an examination more often, I do not personally feel this is justified.

Should pets be examined more often than every three years? Absolutely. In fact, I would go so far as to say that an examination every two years is not often enough. I believe it is in an animal’s best interest to have a full examination at least yearly. Twice yearly or even more often may be more appropriate for senior pets or pets with ongoing health problems. But pets do not need to receive a vaccination every time they visit the veterinary office. And responsible pet owners, if educated to the need, will make sure their pets receive the care they need regardless of which vaccines are due.

What If the Rabies Vaccine for a Dog Has Lapsed Before the Next Rabies Vaccine Is Given?

This is one of the most important reasons to make sure your dog’s vaccines are not allowed to lapse. It is also one of the reasons some veterinarians give for recommending rabies vaccines every two years rather than every three years.

If your dog’s rabies vaccination has lapsed before you have him re-vaccinated, it may be necessary for him to receive a one year vaccine rather than a three year vaccine. This is the case in Rhode Island, where it is mandated by law. A dog with a lapsed rabies vaccination is considered to be unvaccinated and the situation is considered to be the same as if the dog had never been vaccinated before. While scientifically, this may not be true and the dog will likely still have some immunity to rabies unless the lapse has been many years, the law looks at the situation differently. This is because human health is at risk when it comes to rabies and human health issues normally take priority over pet health issues, whether we (as pet owners) like it or not.

Of course, a responsible pet owner does not allow a pet’s vaccines to lapse, right?

Rabies Vaccination for Cats

Feline rabies vaccination is different than canine rabies vaccination in some respects. In cats, as in dogs, available rabies vaccinations are labeled for either one year or three years. However, feline vaccination sarcomas, a rare but extremely aggressive type of cancer associated with feline vaccines, makes the decisions regarding rabies vaccination for cats a bit more involved than that in dogs.

Many veterinarians feel that a specific rabies vaccine (the Purevax vaccine) is less likely to cause feline sarcomas and therefore is safer for use in cats. However, the downside to this is the fact that this particular vaccine (at least at the current time) is licensed for only one year and must be administered annually.

So, that leaves cat owners and their veterinarians to make a decision between a one-year vaccine that may be induce fewer sarcomas but needs to be repeated far more often or a three-year rabies vaccine that will protect the cat for a full three years without re-vaccination. Some veterinarians believe the three-year vaccines are the best option for most cats while others prefer the one-year Purevax vaccine. This is an individual decision that you must make with your veterinarian if you are a cat owner.

Other Extenuating Circumstances for Rabies Vaccination

Under other specific situations, it may be required for your pet to receive a rabies vaccine sooner than expected even if his rabies vaccine is already current.

  • If your pet has been exposed to a rabid animal and is current on his rabies vaccine, your veterinarian will recommend a booster for your pet’s protection as well as the protection of the general public. Most communities have regulations in effect that mandate procedures in these circumstances.
  • If your pet has a wound of unknown origin, such as an abscess, a booster vaccination against rabies may be recommended as a precaution whether your pet is current on his rabies vaccine or not.

This article is posted and shared through the courtesy of the Pet Health Care Gazette