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Rabies Vaccine Recommendations in Dogs

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Rabies is a highly fatal viral infection of the nervous system that affects all warm-blooded animal species, including humans. The virus is most often transmitted from one animal to another through bite wounds. It then travels up through nerves, the spinal cord and eventually the brain. Once in the brain, the signs of rabies occur. Once the virus reaches the brain, death usually occurs within 10 days; it can take weeks to months for the virus to reach the brain, however.

Signs include:

  • Aggression
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Abnormal mental status
  • Seizure
  • Drooling ( the muscles of the throat are paralyzed and the animal cannot swallow)

    Once signs of rabies develop, there is no cure and the disease is fatal. For this reason, reducing the potential risk of rabies in our companion pets is very important. It is so important that vaccinating your pet for rabies is required by law.

    Each state has its own laws governing the frequency of administration of the rabies vaccine, but all agree that the first vaccine should be given around 24-26 weeks of age. A booster injection one year later is necessary. After that, laws vary and some areas require annual rabies vaccination. Other areas allow vaccine every three years.

    In order to prove the pet was vaccinated against rabies, many areas require the pet to wear a rabies tag on his collar and for the owner to maintain a rabies certificate. Rabies vaccine is to be given according to the vaccine manufacturers recommendation, either subcutaneously or in a muscle. The vaccine should be delivered by a veterinarian or under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.

    The purpose of the rabies vaccination is to help your pet fight off a rabies infection if he should be exposed to the virus. The vaccine is not a cure for rabies and pets vaccinated against rabies can still become infected with the virus. After initial vaccination, it takes about one month before the peak levels of rabies antibodies is reached and the pet is considered immunized for rabies.

    If you adopt an adult dog without an accurate vaccination history, initial rabies vaccine should be administered with a follow up vaccine one year later. After that, local laws regarding frequency of vaccination apply.

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