What Dog Owners Need to Know About Rabies Vaccination

What Dog Owners Need to Know About Rabies Vaccination

Author WDF Staff


There aren’t many scarier diseases for dog owners than rabies. This deadly virus is terrifying, but luckily, rabies vaccines for dogs and humans exist. Many countries in the world demand you get your dog vaccinated against rabies every few years. With strict control and vaccinations, places like Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and parts of Scandinavia are now rabies-free. Even wild animals do not carry the disease. Here is what a dog owner should know about rabies vaccines.

Why is rabies so dangerous?

Rabies is a zoonotic disease, which means it can jump from one species to the next. If your dog gets infected, develops symptoms then bites you, you can get infected too. The main issue with rabies is that, as a virus, it is incredibly efficient. Dogs that get infected and receive no immediate treatment will die. The mortality rate is 100%, and very few, if any, viruses have these kinds of numbers.

Want to know more about rabies? Check out this article - Rabies in dogs.

What kind of vaccine is the rabies vaccine?

Dogs get inactivated (killed) rabies vaccine. That means the virus inside the vaccination has been “processed,” so it cannot cause a rabies infection. Instead, the inactivated vaccine will cause an immune response that will cause the dog’s immune system to develop rabies antibodies.

dog in field

How does it work?

Rabies vaccines work similarly to other inactivated vaccines. However, it is slightly different. After the dog is vaccinated, their immune system will produce rabies antibodies. If the dog ever gets bitten by a rabid animal, chances are the rabies virus will enter their body. Because of the vaccine, the dog’s immune system has antibodies ready. Those antibodies will attack the virus inside the dog’s body and kill the virus before it can do irreversible damage to the dog.

How effective are rabies vaccinations?

If a vaccination wants to become licensed in the US, it must be at least 88% effective. That means that out of 100 infected dogs, at least 88 of them will not develop clinical symptoms of the disease. Currently, there are 4 available vaccines for rabies in the US;


Do I have to vaccinate my dog against rabies?

We don’t see a viable reason why anyone would not want to vaccinate their dog against this deadly virus. Luckily, most states in the US require dog owners to vaccinate their dog. Only Hawaii doesn’t require dog owners to vaccinate their dogs because the virus is not present on the islands. However, imported dogs need to go through quarantine.

When should dogs get vaccinated against rabies?

If you got a new puppy, the best thing you can do is talk to the breeder about which shots and dewormers the puppy got already. After that, take your puppy to the vet and discuss the further vaccination plan with them. The vet will let you know when your puppy should get vaccinated and against what.

One of the first vaccinations your puppy will get is the DHPP vaccine. If you want to know more about it, check out this article - DHPP vaccine for dogs.

happy puppy

In general, dogs should not be vaccinated for rabies before they are 3 months old.

How long is the vaccine effective?

Some vaccinations need only a single dose, but some need regular boosters like the rabies vaccines. The antibodies the original vaccine triggered lose their “potency” after a certain time, which is why dogs require boosters. Rabies vaccines are usually effective between 1 and 3 years, depending on the brand. After that period, the law requires you “renew” your dog’s rabies immunity.

Are there any side effects?

The vaccine’s job is to trigger a response from the immune system, so some side effects are completely expected. The most common rabies vaccination side effects are;

  • Mild fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of energy
  • Minor swelling at the injection site
  • Redness at the injection site
  • Possible hair loss at the injection site
  • Sore injection site

Most side effects are completely gone in 24 - 36 hours, and your dog will be back to their old self.

In rare cases, the dog’s immune system might overreact. The dog will experience a stronger response and more severe side effects. Even though they are rare, these side effects might occur;

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hives
  • Coughing
  • Fainting
  • Severe pain at the injection site
  • Swelling of the face, muzzle, eyes

These side effects are considered fairly dangerous, and if you notice them, take your dog immediately to the vet.

Why is it important to get your dog vaccinated?

The importance of dog vaccinations is very well known. Some deadly diseases have nearly been eradicated through vaccinations, and rabies is one of them. This virus is responsible for tens of thousands of human deaths each year, and the best way to prevent that from happening is through vaccinations.

While rabies in dogs might be rare in the US, wild animals carry different virus variants. Dogs could get into contact with these animals, and if dogs get rabies, it is only a matter of time before humans start dying from it as well. It is crucial to vaccinate your dog against rabies, and you should never try to go around that law.

World Dog Finder team

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