What is rabies in dogs and when should your canine companion have the vaccine? In this post, our Wake Forest vets discuss how often dogs need their rabies shots, the potential side effects of this disease and more.
What is rabies and how can it impact my pet's health?
The deadly rabies virus can severely impact the brain and is transmitted through contact with an infected animal's saliva. Pets, livestock, wildlife and humans can all be affected.
The CDC sees about 5,000 cases of rabies in animals annually, most of which are cases occurring in wild animals. Bats, raccoons, foxes and skunks are the animals most likely to carry this virus.
This virus is almost always fatal. Once signs of the deadly virus appear, the animal can typically be expected to die within a few days.
How Rabies Incubates & Spreads
To contract rabies, a dog would need to come into contact with the saliva of an infected animal, or by being bitten by an infected animal. Typically, it will take between 10 and 14 days for your pooch to start showing symptoms.
However, symptoms can take months or years to appear depending on how your pet was exposed to the virus.
Symptoms of Rabies
Dogs with rabies may exhibit numerous signs and symptoms, including:
- Barking differently
- Excessive drooling
- Uncharacteristic aggression, fearfulness or even affection
- Overreaction to touch, sound or light
- Biting at the site where they were exposed to the virus
- Difficulty swallowing
- Loss of balance when walking
- Partial or complete paralysis
No Test for Rabies
If your pet comes into contact with an infected animal and isn't vaccinated against rabies, you will end up having to make some very difficult choices.
Since animals cannot be tested for rabies, pet parents who find themselves in this position are forced to decide whether to quarantine their pet and wait for symptoms to appear or to euthanize a beloved family member. Quarantined pets are unlikely to survive even if they do not initially show symptoms.
No Treatment for Rabies
Once your dog has become infected with rabies, there is nothing a veterinarian can offer to treat the disease. Quarantine or euthanasia are your only options. This is why prevention is so critical.
What is the rabies vaccine?
Rabies vaccines are highly effective and immunogenic. It's rare for the vaccine to fail.
Requirements regarding pet vaccinations vary from city to city and state to state, but keeping your pet's rabies vaccines up to date protects both your dog and the people in your household against this deadly neurological disease.
How often do dogs need rabies shots?
While it is not mandated in some jurisdictions, The rabies vaccine is an important one on the list of many puppy and dog vaccinations your pooch needs to protect their health and prevent a variety of deadly diseases.
Our Wake Forest vets recommend the rabies vaccine as a core vaccine to be given to puppies starting between ages 14 to 16 weeks. It is also part of our core kitten and cat vaccinations.
Because vaccine antibodies wane over time, the rabies vaccine will begin to lose efficacy. This is why follow-up booster doses must be administered.
Boosters, which are designed to immunize any animals that failed to respond to the initial dose, should be administered once your dog reaches 12 to 16 months old and every 1 to 3 years depending on the type of vaccine your veterinarian uses.
Are there rabies vaccine side effects?
Side effects of rabies vaccinations in dogs will usually be due to the fact that the vaccine stimulates the immune system. These can include:
- Mild loss of appetite
- Mild to moderate energy loss for 24 to 36 hours following vaccination
- Mild fever
- Potential swelling or soreness at the injection site
Some dogs develop a small, painless swelling at the injection site that may last for a couple of weeks. In rare cases, a small, circular area of hair loss may develop at the injection site.
Keep in mind that some dogs won't experience any side effects at all from the rabies vaccine. If side effects do occur, they'll typically begin within an hour of vaccination and vanish within one or two days.
Rarely, a dog may have a severe reaction to the rabies vaccine, typically due to an overreaction of the immune system. Serious side effects usually come on immediately or within one or two hours after vaccination.
Rare reactions to the rabies vaccine include:
- Swelling in the face, eyes or muzzle
- Severe swelling or pain at the injection site
- Hives, which appear as firm lumps on the dog's body and may or may not be itchy
- Fainting or collapse
Take your dog to a veterinarian for emergency care immediately if you notice any of the symptoms above.
Can my dog get rabies if they are vaccinated?
While there is still a risk of your dog contracting rabies even while vaccinated, the odds are very low. In fact, the rabies vaccine is so effective that dogs who have been vaccinated rarely become infected.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.