Seriously, how Often do Dogs Need Rabies Vaccines?

The recent post on rabies vaccinations in dogs has generated a few interesting comments. One, in particular, caught my attention. Green posted a comment on...
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The recent post on rabies vaccinations in dogs has generated a few interesting comments. One, in particular, caught my attention.

Green posted a comment on January 7th, 2009 at 9:20 pm

My 7 pound dog is always inside with me or in the fenced urban garden. I take him on leas[h]ed walks at a paved park. When or how could he be exposed to rabies? If our law requires vaccines every three years do you still recommend a yearly vaccine like his vet says. I see a greater, more likely danger in losing my dog to a vaccine reaction than rabies.

I recommend adhering to local rabies vaccination requirements unless a specific reason exists to increase the frequency of vaccination.

Green, your dog is at low risk of exposure to rabies. Remember that low is not the same as zero. For instance, a rabid bat could fly into your back yard and bite your dog. Bats have tiny teeth, and most bitten individuals do not suffer significant wounds. In many instances, the wounds aren’t visible. Bats are ubiquitous in urban and rural areas. They are a leading carrier of rabies in the US.

If a rabid bat in your backyard sounds implausible, consider the case of Zachary Jones, a teenager in Texas who died after a rabid bat flew through his window and bit him while he was sleeping.

Such cases may be rare, but they are sensational and tragic. They give local governments a legitimate reason to take steps they believe may protect humans from exposure to rabies.

Green, if your dog has been vaccinated against rabies at least twice, he’s probably immune for life. Even if he is the one-in-ten-million case in which a mainly indoor dog is bitten by a rabid bat, he probably would be fine.

But there is absolutely no way to prove that. Rabies titers (blood tests to measure immunity) are not 100% accurate. There is absolutely no way to prove that an individual is immune to rabies. I, personally, have been vaccinated against the disease seven times. My titer is very high (that’s good). Yet if I were exposed to a rabid animal I would not sit back with a wait-and-see attitude–after all, only a few individuals in the history of humanity have survived rabies after symptoms developed. I’d high-tail it to the doctor for post-exposure rabies injections.

Rabies vaccinations are required by law not to protect dogs, but to protect people. Whether you agree with the law or not, you only have a few choices. You can obey the law. Or, although I don’t recommend it, you can ignore the law (this may put your dog at risk of euthanasia for rabies testing if he ever bites anyone). Or, finally, you can challenge the law by contacting your local government.

To those who believe that rabies vaccinations are bad for dogs, consider this. Before the advent of canine rabies vaccination laws, dogs were the leading source of human rabies exposure in the US by a mile. Now they are not. The shift has changed the public’s perception of dogs in a very favorable way. That is good for dogs.

Photo: the gentleman depicted died from rabies in 1959, soon after the photo (courtesy of US CDC) was taken.

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