Most people think of vaccines as safe and protective, but vaccination is a serious medical procedure with significant risks. The rabies vaccine, in particular, is notorious when it comes to adverse reactions. Here are some potentially life-saving tips to help your dog or cat.

Does my dog or cat really need a rabies shot?

The rabies vaccine is the ONLY shot required by law for dogs and cats in the United States. This is primarily to protect humans from getting rabies from their pets.

The Center for Disease Control declared in 2007 that canine rabies no longer exists in the United States. Your dog will not contract rabies from another dog, but only from wild animals such as bats, coyotes, skunks, raccoons and foxes. However, in most areas, only young puppies, and dogs with written exemptions from their local Animal Control, are exempt from getting this shot.

Consequences for not vaccinating against rabies depends on the Animal Control laws in your area. At the very least, you won't be able to board your pet, participate in training classes or shows, or use a professional groomer. Many vets will insist on vaccination before boarding or treating your pet. If you do not vaccinate your pet, it is possible that if your dog or cat bites or scratches anyone, or is picked up by Animal Control, there will surely be a stiff fine and your pet will be impounded and vaccinated, and in extreme instances possibly euthanized.

When should I vaccinate my pet?

Most localities require vaccination every three years even though studies in France and blood antibody tests in this country show that the rabies vaccine's immunity lasts for seven years. Be aware, that some localities require annual vaccination even though the "three year" shot is guaranteed by manufacturers to give immunity for three years. To make certain you are meeting the requirements in your area, check with your vet and your local Animal Control Department for complete information and any special instructions.

The one-year shot is NOT safer than the three-year shot, and has to be given more often, making it potentially more dangerous because the health risks to your pet are faced annually rather than every three years. Puppies are generally required to get their first shot around four months, then again one year later and thereafter as required by local law. Check with your vet or Animal Control for details.

Are there any instances when I should NOT vaccinate?

Informed veterinarians generally recommend that you should NOT vaccinate when the following scenerios exist:

  • Puppies younger than 4 months

  • A pet that has reacted adversely to a vaccination in the past

  • A sick pet, especially a dog with cancer or autoimmune disease

  • Before, during or after surgery, chemotherapy or other major medical procedure

  • Within 3-4 weeks of other shots

Important: When getting a new dog or cat, get shot records. Pets from shelters, pet stores and most rescue groups will have been recently vaccinated, just as animals from individuals may have been. Don't vaccinate unnecessarily. Find out exactly which shots your pet has gotten, and when they were administered. Get documentation whenever possible.

What are some of the possible adverse reactions my pet could experience?

After a rabies vaccination, your dog or cat may experience fever, malaise or even life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Non-immediate reactions can occur days or even months after the actual vaccination (called "vaccinosis") and can include the following symptoms but are not limited to:

  • Aggression or destructive behavior

  • Separation anxiety

  • Obsessive compulsive behaviors (like chasing tails or licking paws)

  • Seizures and epilepsy

  • Autoimmune diseases

  • Allergies

  • Skin problems

  • Digestive disorders

  • Muscle weakness

  • Pica (eating inappropriate materials)

  • Fibrocarcinomas at the injection site (particularly in cats)

Inexplicably, few vets warn about these possible adverse effects or even admit to the possibility even after they occur. If your pet experiences any of these reactions. ALWAYS REPORT THESE SYMPTOMS TO YOUR VET.

What can I do to protect my pet?

There are things you can do. If your dog is at high risk for contracting rabies, know that the only way to guarantee immunity to the rabies virus is with a simple blood test called an antibody titer (pronounced Tight er). Ask your vet about it.

  1. Never give the rabies vaccine with other shots -- especially not with a combination shot (one that vaccinates against several diseases at once). In fact, don't give combos at all. They are linked to serious adverse reactions. This is even more important for small dogs whose bodies can't withstand multiple shots at once.

  2. If your pet has documented health problems and a low likelihood of contracting rabies, ask your vet to apply for a rabies vaccination extension or exemption. A rabies titer test showing immunity may help your cause. Expect to pay license fees, and to reapply in the next licensing period. If your current vet won't do this for you, consult another vet.

  3. If you have to vaccinate, consult a vet trained in homeopathy. There's a homeopathic "remedy" that can be given with the shot to lessen the chance of ill effects.

  4. Report ALL reactions to vaccines to your vet; and make sure the reactions are recorded in your pet's file. Have the veterinarian sign the page showing your pet's reactions. Remember to get a copy for your personal files too. Documentation will be necessary if you ever need to apply for an exemption, and will be helpful if years from now you need to remember the details.

  5. If your dog has any adverse reaction to a shot, but your vet dismisses your concerns, take matters into your own hands. Contact a holistic veterinarian, as there are things that can be done to alleviate even long-standing problems.

  6. Kennels, groomers, trainers and dog day care facilities may require proof of rabies, but more and more establishments accept titer testing. If they require vaccination more frequently than legally required, educate them or find another establishment. Their lack of knowledge is potentially hazardous to your pet's health.


click here to return to the Newsletter