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Rabies Shot: Q&A

Rabies Vaccination-Trying to Make Sense of a Messy Situation

Shawn Messonnier DVM
Paws and Claws Holistic Animal Hospital
Plano, Tx.

Two common questions among pet owners looking to minimize unnecessary vaccinations is whether or not the pet (usually one that spends most are all of its life indoors) really needs a rabies shot, and which rabies shot should be given.

Q: Does My Pet Need a Rabies Shot?

A: From a legal perspective, the answer is Yes. Because rabies is a zoonotic disease (a disease passed from animals to people,) and because it is typically 100% fatal (with rare exceptions,) from a public health perspective minimizing rabies in wildlife and family pets reduces the chances of a person becoming infected with rabies virus. The typical protocol for rabies immunization for dogs and cats is a vaccine around 3-4 months of age, a booster at 1 year of age (or 1 year following the initial vaccine,) and then a booster every 1-3 years depending upon the rabies vaccine administered.

Q: How Often Should My Pet Receive a Rabies Shot?

A: This is dictated by law more than science. Depending upon your state or county of origin, booster vaccinations are given every 1, 2, or 3 years.

Q: What is the Difference Between the 1 year and 3 Year Rabies Shots?

A: Nothing! They are essentially the same shot with different labels. Medically, a 1-year rabies shot can protect for at least 3 years. Legally, a 1-year rabies shot must be given annually. This means if you vaccinate your pet annually with a rabies shot, you are essentially giving a 3-year shot every year. I advise you to ask your veterinarian to give a vaccine labeled for 3 years to minimize unnecessary vaccination.

Q: Can I Do Antibody Titer Testing in Place of a Rabies Booster?

A: Medically yes, but legally no (in most locales.) This is something to discuss with your veterinarian. Titer testing is typically required for proof of immunization prior to international travel, so it would make sense for our local governments to accept it in place of regular vaccine boosters (see the question below as well.)

Q: Don’t Rabies Shots Really Provide Protection for More Than 1, 2, or 3 Years?

A: Yes. An important rabies challenge study was completed and the report published in 2020 by one of my colleagues, Dr. Jean Dodds (Duration of Immunity After Rabies Vaccination in Dogs:The Rabies Challenge Fund Research Study, The Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research, 2020;84:153-158.) In this study, she and her coauthors showed that selected rabies vaccinations (IMRAB-TF, PureVax) provided immunity for at least 6.5 years. We don’t know if all commercially available rabies vaccines can do the same, but it is tempting to believe that a rabies vaccine can last longer than 1 or 3 years. Unfortunately, the local rabies laws have not changed their legal requirements as of this writing. Attempting to work with and influence lawmakers, especially through proactive organizations like Texans for Vaccine Choice may be helpful in reducing the amount of rabies vaccinations a pet receives over the course of its life.

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