How Long Can a Pet Be Overdue for a Rabies Vaccine and Still Be Protected?

Dr. Debra,

My dog Lily is overdue for her rabies vaccine. She was due last December and I just didn’t get around to her re-vaccinated. (It’s June now.) She was recently bitten by some outdoor animal (not sure what).

How long is my dog protected for rabies when she is overdue for her vaccine?

Betty H., Chicago, IL.

Hi Betty,

It is important to keep your pets up-to-date on their rabies vaccines. Over 6,000 known rabies cases involving wildlife occur in the U.S. each year; of these, a number involve dogs or cats being exposed.

In most areas of the United States, it is required by law to have dogs and cats vaccinated for rabies. That’s because if your pet bites someone or has a rabies exposure and is not vaccinated (or is late on their vaccination), your pet could require a quarantine or even be euthanized in some circumstances.

To answer your question, how long is your dog protected from rabies when they’re overdue for a rabies vaccine?

Well…legally speaking, when your pet is overdue, they are not protected and are considered unvaccinated. However, in a medical sense, most vaccinated dogs and cats still have some protection. How strong this protection is and long this protection lasts depends on the individual pet. Every animal is different, it appears that some dogs and cats may have protection for months or even years beyond their due date.

A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) looked at how pets that were overdue responded to vaccination. Their findings indicated that “rabies boosters in dogs and cats that were late for their vaccinations were just as effective as boosters in dogs and cats that were up-to-date on their vaccinations.”

In summary, we don’t have a universal answer for how long a dog or cat is protected when they are overdue for any vaccine. Based on the law in your state, I’d follow your vet’s recommendations and keep all of your pets’ vaccines up-to-date. If you are worried about the negative consequences of vaccines, you could get titers for the other vaccines to determine whether your pet is protected or needs a booster. For more information and to learn more, go to Vaccine Titers in Dogs.

I hope this information helps. If your dog is overdue on anything, I’d recommend boostering his vaccine as soon as possible.

Dr. Debra