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How Often Do Dogs Need Rabies Shots? Pet Health Care Facts

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on June 5, 2024 by Dogster Team

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How Often Do Dogs Need Rabies Shots? Pet Health Care Facts

VET APPROVED

Dr. Lorna Whittemore  Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Lorna Whittemore

BVMS, MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Dogs need rabies shots every one to three years, depending on the type of vaccine used. Some dog owners mistakenly believe that their pet only needs a rabies shot once and is then immune for life. This is not true! Rabies immunity wears off over time, which is why your dog needs regular vaccinations to stay protected. In this article, we will discuss the recommended vaccination schedule for dogs and answer some common questions about rabies shots.

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What Is Rabies?

Rabies is a deadly virus that affects the nervous system of mammals. It is most commonly transmitted through the bite of an infected animal, more rarely by scratching. Once a person or animal contracts rabies it enters an incubation period of around 1 to 3 months, sometimes longer. Once signs of the disease start to show after incubation it progresses quickly and is virtually always fatal and there is no treatment. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your dog is up to date on their rabies shots!

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Image Credit By: Melianiaka Kanstantsin, Shutterstock

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How Often Do Dogs Need Rabies Shots?

The frequency of rabies vaccinations for dogs depends on the type of vaccine used. There are two types of vaccines available: “inactivated” and “modified live virus” (MLV). Inactivated vaccines are given once every one to three years, while MLV vaccines are given once every two to three years.

Your veterinarian will recommend the best type of vaccine for your dog based on their age, health, and risk of exposure to rabies. For example, puppies should receive an initial series of two vaccinations, followed by annual boosters. Adult dogs that are considered “at risk” (e.g., those that travel frequently or live in areas with a high incidence of rabies) may also be vaccinated annually.

vet checking up labrador dog
Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock

What Are the Side Effects of Rabies Shots?

The most common side effect of rabies vaccination is soreness at the injection site. This is usually mild and goes away within a few days. Other possible side effects include fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. These are also typically mild and resolve on their own within a few days. If you notice any severe side effects after your dog’s rabies shot, please contact your veterinarian immediately.

Are Rabies Shots the Law?

In most states, rabies vaccinations are required by law for all dogs, cats and ferrets. There may be some exceptions for animals that are too young to vaccinate or have certain medical conditions that contraindicate vaccination (e.g., cancer). Check with your local animal control agency to find out the specific laws in your area.

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Image Credit By: IgorAleks, Shutterstock

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What Happens If My Dog Is Exposed to Rabies?

If your dog is exposed to rabies, they will need to be quarantined for six months or vaccinated and then quarantined for 30 days. The type of quarantine will depend on the laws in your state. During quarantine, your dog will be closely monitored for signs and symptoms of rabies. If they develop the disease, there is no treatment, and they will likely die. Sadly it is usually best to euthanize to avoid suffering.

Can My Dog Get Rabies from Common Wild Animals?

Yes. The most common wild animals that transmit rabies in the United States are raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Dogs can also get rabies from contact with infected domestic animals, such as cats and livestock. If you think your dog has been exposed to a rabid animal, please contact your veterinarian or local animal control agency immediately.

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Image Credit: Friends Stock, Shutterstock

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Rabies in Dogs and Humans FAQs

How do I know if my dog has rabies?

The only way to definitively diagnose rabies is by testing a sample of the animal’s brain tissue. This can only be done after death. However, there are some clinical signs that may indicate that an animal has rabies. These include changes in behavior (e.g., aggression, lethargy), paralysis, seizures, and difficulty swallowing. If you suspect your dog has rabies, please contact your veterinarian or local animal control immediately.

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Image Credit: freegr, Pixabay

How is rabies treated in dogs?

There is no treatment for rabies once a dog has contracted the virus. That’s why prevention is so important! If your dog is exposed to rabies, they will need to be quarantined and closely monitored for signs and symptoms of the disease. If they do develop rabies, there is no treatment and they will likely die.

Can humans get rabies from dogs?

Yes, humans can get rabies from dogs. Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system and is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. The best way to prevent rabies is to vaccinate your dog and avoid contact with wild animals. If you think you have been exposed to rabies, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.

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Image Credit: simonocampo999, Pixabay

What are the symptoms of rabies in humans?

The early symptoms of rabies in humans are similar to those of other viral illnesses, such as flu. These include fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more severe symptoms develop, such as confusion, hallucinations, and paralysis. Rabies is 99.9% fatal once these symptoms appear.

How is rabies treated in humans?

If you think you have been exposed to rabies, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. There are several steps that will be taken to try to prevent the disease from developing, such as vaccination and administration of human rabies immune globulin. However, once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal.

How can I protect my dog from rabies?

The best way to protect your dog from rabies is to vaccinate them against the virus. Vaccinations are typically given by your veterinarian and are required by law in most states. You should also avoid contact with wild animals and make sure your dog does not have access to areas where they could come into contact with rabid animals. If you think your dog has been exposed to rabies, please contact your veterinarian or local animal control immediately.

Image Credit: Ton Bangkeaw, shutterstock

How do I know if my dog has had a rabies shot?

Rabies vaccinations are typically given by your veterinarian and are required by law in most states. Your dog’s vaccination history should be included in their medical records. If you are unsure whether or not your dog has been vaccinated, please contact your veterinarian.

If I’m unsure my dog is vaccinated, can they be vaccinated again?

Yes, if you are unsure whether your dog has been vaccinated, they can be vaccinated again. Your dog’s vaccination history should be included in their medical records. If you are unsure whether your dog has been vaccinated, please contact your veterinarian.

dog getting a vaccine
Image Credit: Syda Productions, Shutterstock

What if my dog bites someone?

If your dog bites someone, it’s important to seek medical attention for the person who was bitten and to contact your veterinarian or local animal control immediately. The person who was bitten will need to be evaluated for rabies exposure and may need to receive a series of vaccinations. Your dog may also need to be quarantined and closely monitored for signs and symptoms of rabies. If your dog is current with their rabies vaccine the quarantine will likely only be 10 days.  If they are not, they will be quarantined for four months.divider-paw

Legal FAQs

What happens if I don’t get my dog a rabies vaccine?

If you do not vaccinate your dog against rabies and they come into contact with the virus, they will likely die. Rabies is a fatal disease and there is no treatment once symptoms appear. Vaccinations are required by law in most states and are the best way to protect your dog from this deadly virus. The legal ramifications can include fines, court costs, loss of animal, and even jail time in cases of serious injury or death. You can also be held financially responsible for the medical bills of any sick or injured pets or people your dog may have infected.

What happens if my dog bites someone and I don’t have proof of a rabies vaccine?

If your dog bites someone and you do not have proof of a rabies vaccination, your dog will likely be quarantined for a period of time. In many places, the local dog warden or health department representative will have to post a notice of quarantine on your front door. The person who was bitten will also need to be evaluated for rabies exposure and may need to receive a series of vaccinations. This can all be avoided by simply vaccinating your dog.

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Image Credit: PickPik

What if I can’t afford to vaccinate my dog?

There are many low-cost or free rabies vaccination clinics held throughout the year. Check with your local humane society or animal shelter for more information. There are also a number of organizations that provide financial assistance for pet owners who cannot afford to vaccinate their pets.

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Conclusion

Rabies is a lethal disease to both dogs and humans. The best way to protect your dog from rabies is to vaccinate them against the virus and avoid contact with wild animals. If you think your dog has been exposed to rabies, please contact your veterinarian or local animal control immediately.

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