The Rabies Vaccine

It is a zoonotic disease.

My first introduction to the Rabies virus was when I was a little girl watching the classic Disney movie “Old Yeller.” Of course, this movie is a fictitious rendition, but nonetheless a dramatic representation of what could realistically, potentially happen. To quote VERBATIM from the 2023 revised Veterinary Partner article: “Despite vaccination being readily available, every year the U.S. reports approximately 50 canine deaths, 250 feline deaths, and several human deaths from rabies. Worldwide, some 55,000 human deaths occur annually from rabies even now in the 21st century.” This is nothing to take lightly. The state certainly doesn’t take it lightly. Rabies is a virus that is predominant in the wildlife population but can easily be transmitted to household pets and then, easily transmitted to humans. The virus is transmitted most commonly via bite wounds and there is no cure once it takes hold of its victim. Symptoms include behavior changes, hallucinations, aggression, weakness and paralysis. After symptoms begin (which time between bite transmission and symptoms can vary), death follows in about 10 days. And because the Rabies mortality rate is 100% and CAN affect humans, vaccinating our household pets against Rabies is a requirement by law. Typically Rabies law varies by state, but you’ll likely find there is no exception to this law. The state of Texas requires that all dog and cats be vaccinated against Rabies by four months of age by a licensed veterinarian.

Does my pet have to be current on Rabies?

Yes. The law requires all cats and dogs be current on a Rabies vaccine.

Rabies quarantine is a huge hassle to you. And expensive.

If a pet bites a human – regardless of vaccination status – they are required to be quarantined for a 10 day observational period with very strict rules and currently the cost of Rabies quarantine is at least $800.00.

Postmortem Rabies testing on an animal is, to put it vaguely, unpleasant to think about. Because the virus eventually resides in the brain, an examination of the brain itself is required to see if an animal has Rabies or not. This means, if an animal dies or is euthanized after biting a human, it is required that the head only be submitted for testing. Prepping this at our clinic is not pleasant.

Can’t I just use Rabies titers?

According to the law, no. In Texas, a Rabies titer is not legally permissible as an alternative to the Rabies vaccine. Furthermore, having a Rabies titer is not a guaranteed indication of protection against the Rabies virus. A titer is only an estimation. It’s like taking a one chance look at a small group of your pet’s various antibodies at one given point in time. And tests can sometimes have errors.

My pet is prone to vaccine reactions.

We cannot force someone to have their pet vaccinated for Rabies. We certainly require a current Rabies vaccine in order for a pet to board or be groomed with us, but in certain extenuating circumstances such as severe Rabies vaccine reactions (which are rare) or an immune-compromised patient (which does happen and which I’ll go into later), the doctor’s discretion will dictate whether or not we are able to allow a pet to use our ancillary services without a current Rabies vaccine. For patients with known vaccine reactions, we will either pre-medicate prior to giving a vaccine, only give one vaccine at a time, or the client will just decline the vaccine entirely. We don’t want our patients to have reactions, and every pet’s body is different. Our doctors and you will do what is best for your pet. Unfortunately, if that pet in question bites a human, the state is not going to accept that he or she cannot have the Rabies vaccine because he or she gets bad vaccine reactions.

My pet is too old for vaccines.

In the state of Texas, age is not a factor in Rabies vaccine requirements. Depending on the Rabies vaccine manufacturer, a pet can receive their first Rabies vaccine as early as 12 weeks of age, must be vaccinated as soon as they are 4 months old, and is mandated that they be kept up to date on their Rabies vaccine life-long. In other words, if you have a 15 year old dog that never leaves the house, the state still wants them vaccinated.

My pet is immune-compromised and the vet said no more vaccines.

This will always be up to the doctor’s discretion. With that being said, usually, if a pet is sick and is due or coming due for any vaccine, the doctor may say “no” to that pet getting a vaccine. Certain vaccines can make certain illnesses worse. And as mentioned earlier, some of our patients absolutely cannot have vaccines because they are immune-compromised. For example, if they have lymphoma, carcinoma, other cancers, an over-abundance of white blood cells that attack their own body, etc. Our doctors will follow what is best for the pet, which can be difficult in this circumstance because they have to try to balance what is best for the pet and what is legal. The state of Texas currently does not allow veterinarians to make exemptions for the Rabies vaccine. If you have any questions regarding your pet’s health and the Rabies law, please talk to your veterinarian! The doctor will guide their clients on each case-by-case situation.

Why the Purevax Rabies for cats?

Our clinic only uses the Purevax Rabies for our feline patients. This is a non-adjuvented vaccine. I have stated this in a previous blog post but, the adjuvanted rabies vaccine (or “killed” rabies) is still used for cats in some clinics and some employ the 3-year cat rabies, which both come with possible risks. This is because adjuvants are linked to an adverse reaction known as an injection-site sarcoma. In some cats, their bodies cannot control the swelling, so the tumor keeps growing larger until it starts to affect the cat’s quality of life. Due to its rapid growth, the tumor can grow into other areas of the body and spread. This is why at our clinic we use the safer non-adjuvented vaccine and we administer vaccines to kitties in an area as far down the leg as possible. It is a recombinant product that takes a portion of the live Rabies virus and clones it into the relatively harmless canarypox virus but their bodies are then still set up to protect against Rabies exposure.

Our state and our clinic recommends you keep your furry friend up to date on their Rabies vaccine. It is to protect them, you, and others.

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