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Do Dogs Need Rabies Vaccines Every Year . . . if They Live in Mexico?

We retired to Mexico and they require a Rabies vaccine every year. Is this safe or do you consider this over vaccinating? There are so...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Nov 11th 2009

We retired to Mexico and they require a Rabies vaccine every year. Is this safe or do you consider this over vaccinating? There are so many strays here (very sad) that are not vaccinated that my vet here says this is the reason.

Ajijic, Mexico

Your dog’s health almost certainly does not require him to be vaccinated every year. The schedule you describe probably constitutes over vaccination.

But I don’t know that for sure. Nobody, and I mean nobody, knows the frequency of vaccination that will protect your dog from rabies. Rabies vaccines are required by law in most places. Depending upon location, vaccination schedules vary from one year to three years. Some groups are working to extend legally mandated rabies vaccination intervals to seven years. All of these schedules are based on human convenience — we can easily measure years on the calendar. However, a year (or three years, or seven years) is nothing special to a dog’s immune system.

Every dog’s response to rabies vaccination is unique. Every dog therefore should have a unique vaccination schedule.

But that is not going to happen any time soon. Governments determine vaccination schedules. And governments don’t care very much about dogs. They care first and foremost about people.

Around 50,000 people worldwide die from rabies each year. Dogs are the main vector of human rabies. That is why many places legally require rabies vaccinations in dogs.

Remember, however, that 100% of dogs who catch rabies die. Rabies vaccines certainly can save dogs’ lives.

Developing countries such as Mexico with large numbers of stray dogs have relatively high rates of rabies. Vaccination is recommended more frequently in these areas.

Your dog probably does not need to be vaccinated annually against rabies in order to be protected from the disease. But if local law requires annual vaccination, I recommend that you follow the law.

Although I don’t know exactly how often your dog needs rabies vaccines, I do know that I wouldn’t want to end up in a Mexican prison. Conditions in those facilities are famously bad. I imagine that a Mexican animal shelter would be even worse. And that is where your dog could end up if he doesn’t get his rabies vaccine — assuming that unvaccinated dogs in your area aren’t summarily shot or poisoned.

Whether or not annual vaccination is over vaccination, pragmatically speaking you have no real choice. You should obey the law.

Photo: Ltshears.