The rabies virus, a serious disease that affects people and pets, is almost always fatal once signs appear. Diagnosing rabies is difficult and there is currently no reliable treatment for the virus once signs begin. Therefore, vaccinating your pet is of the utmost importance to keep you and your furry family safe. Penny Paws Animal Clinic offers safe, convenient, and affordable vaccination through our four office locations and mobile vaccination clinics.

Not only are rabies vaccinations crucial in protecting the ones you love most, but state law may require your pet to be quarantined or even euthanized if they bite someone and aren’t current on their rabies vaccine. While the laws vary from state to state, vaccinating your pet for this dangerous condition helps ensure that your family and community stay safe and is an essential part of responsible pet ownership. 

Vaccinating Your Pet

Laws may differ by state regarding when and how often to vaccinate your pet for rabies. Most states require puppies and kittens to receive their first rabies vaccine by 16 weeks of age with the second vaccination given one year later. In most cases, pets can be vaccinated as early as 12 weeks of age.

After your pet’s second vaccination, their rabies vaccination schedule will depend on which particular vaccine they last received and local or state laws. Talk to your veterinarian about your state’s vaccination laws and their recommendations on which vaccine is best for your pet.

How Long Does the Rabies Vaccine Last?

Rabies immunizations are considered effective for one or three years, depending on the vaccine manufacturer and your state’s vaccination laws. Some states may require your pet to receive the vaccine annually, even if it is labeled for longer. Your veterinarian will determine your pet’s revaccination date based on their age, vaccine history, and state laws. 

Rabies Booster Vaccinations

The rabies vaccine protects your pet against the virus by programming their immune system to develop neutralizing antibodies for the disease. Once antibody production is successful with the help of a vaccine, the likelihood of being affected by the disease is low, as the immune system is primed to recognize and defeat the virus.

It is possible for immunity to wane over time after vaccination, which is why rabies boosters are needed every one to three years. Even if your pet is currently vaccinated, they may require a booster shot sooner if they are bit by a suspected rabid animal.

Which Is Safer, the One-Year or Three-Year Vaccine?

One-year and three-year vaccines are virtually identical, containing very little difference in volume or disease agent to trigger an immune response in your pet. Generally, the only difference between the two is the labeling, which the manufacturer controls. Both types of vaccines have undergone extensive experimental tests with no significant adverse reactions reported in clinical trials

Can a Vaccinated Pet Get Rabies?

While the rabies vaccine is highly effective, no vaccine is 100% foolproof. The best prevention for your pet is to ensure they are up to date on their rabies vaccine according to the schedule set by your veterinarian.

What Are the Possible Side Effects of the Rabies Vaccine?

While rare, the rabies vaccine can cause side effects just like any other vaccine. Some common, generally mild signs of a vaccine reaction may include:

  • Mild discomfort or swelling at the injection site
  • Mild fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy

If you notice any of the following signs, your pet may be having a more severe reaction requiring veterinary care:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Hives
  • Swelling around the muzzle, face, neck, or eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Collapse
  • Severe itching

These reactions can occur within minutes of vaccination, though sometimes they will become apparent  several hours later. Though rare, these reactions require emergency treatment. While the thought of your pet suffering from such side effects can be scary, contracting rabies isn’t a risk worth taking.

How Can My Pet Contract Rabies?

Rabies is transmitted most commonly through saliva when an infected animal bites a susceptible person or pet. It can also transmit through any open wound exposed to infected saliva, such as another animal licking an open wound on your pet.

Wild animals accounted for 92.7% of reported cases of rabies in 2018. During 2018, domestic animals accounted for 47.2% of all animals submitted for testing. Human rabies cases in the United States are rare, with only 1 to 3 cases reported annually. Twenty-five cases of human rabies have been reported in the United States in the past decade (2009-2018). Seven of these infections were acquired outside of the U.S. and its territories.

What Are the Symptoms of Rabies?

There are two different syndromes associated with rabies including the “furious” form and the “dumb” form, with each name describing the symptoms associated with the syndrome. In either case, early signs will be similar before the disease progresses to either the furious or dumb stage.

If your pet has suffered a bite wound from a wild animal, another pet, or comes home with unknown wounds on its body, seek veterinary care immediately so they can receive a rabies booster and close observation.

Rabid animals tend to be restless and aggressive, though sometimes they become uncharacteristically affectionate. Other signs to keep an eye out for are fever, excessive drooling, staggering or seizing, difficulty swallowing, and paralysis. Pets afflicted with rabies may also hide, as lights, movement, and sound may overstimulate them.

While many people associate rabies with foaming at the mouth, this sign doesn’t present in all affected animals. If this sign does occur, it generally means that the disease is in its final stages, as mouth-foaming occurs due to paralysis of muscles involving the mouth, throat, and respiratory system. Affected animals eventually die as they lose control of these important muscles and can no longer breathe. While rare, an animal may succumb to rabies without presenting any outward signs.

Rabies can incubate in a pet’s body for weeks to months before any signs emerge, but the average incubation period is between 21 and 80 days after exposure. Once signs begin to show, rabies is no longer treatable and is nearly always fatal. It is essential to contact your veterinarian or public health official as soon as there is a suspicion your pet has been exposed to rabies. 

If you believe you have seen or come into contact with a rabid animal of any kind, it is crucial to contact your local animal control as soon as possible. 

The only way to officially diagnose rabies in animals is through a  direct fluorescent antibody test at a state-approved rabies diagnostic lab. Unfortunately, this test can only be performed on brain tissue from a deceased animal, and so diagnosing rabies in pets can only occur post-mortem. 

What Happens If My Pet Is Vaccinated and Is Bitten?

If your pet is up to date on their rabies vaccine, they should be protected against the disease if a rabid animal bites them. Your first step is to contact your veterinarian. Depending on state law, your pet will most likely receive a rabies booster and may undergo quarantine for some time after a bite as a safety precaution. The chances of your pet developing the disease are low due to the neutralizing antibodies they developed from the vaccination. This is assuming your pet received timely immunizations and that they mounted an appropriate immune response to the vaccine. 

Once your pet is at the veterinarian, you should disinfect any areas of your home where your pet has access. Use a 10% solution of bleach in water to kill the virus, making sure to thoroughly clean any areas of your home that may have come in contact with an infected animal’s saliva.

Does Antibody Testing Exempt My Pet From Further Vaccination?

The simple answer is no. In the US and Canada, a positive test for rabies virus neutralizing antibody (RVNA) does not legally mean that the pet has protection against the disease. Thus, antibody testing does not prove immunity, and it cannot exempt a pet from revaccination.

The only practical use for rabies titer testing is if you will be transporting your pet to an area of the world that is deemed rabies-free. In this case, the titer testing can prove that your pet has had a recent vaccination. Titers for other diseases may provide an exemption for vaccination depending on various factors, but titers cannot be used in lieu of rabies vaccination in the US  due to the zoonotic nature of the virus and its implications on public health. 

Can I Contract Rabies From My Pet?

Yes, rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can spread from animals to humans. Transmission occurs similarly in people as it does in animals, with the virus spreading through contact with infected saliva. Once infection occurs, the rabies virus incubates inside the body for about three months before symptoms emerge.

The first signs of rabies in people are typically fever, body aches, and a tingling or burning sensation around the bite wound (if this is how the infection occurred). It can be challenging to diagnose rabies since initial symptoms are similar to the flu, often leading to misdiagnosis.

If untreated, more severe side effects will occur related to central nervous system dysfunction. Like animals, a person’s chance of survival dramatically decreases as the disease progresses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that only ten individuals have recovered after reaching the severe stage of rabies. 

Thankfully, a rabies vaccine is available for people who have a higher risk of contracting the virus, such as veterinarians and animal control officials. According to the CDC, the increased effort of vaccinating for rabies has led to a decrease in the number of reported human cases to only one to two a year.

By vaccinating your pet according to state law, and getting vaccinated yourself, if you hold a high-risk job, you can ensure you remain protected.

About Penny Paws Animal Clinics

Penny Paws Animal Clinic participates in veterinary community outreach programs and animal clinics to provide quality, easily accessible, and affordable veterinary care for the people and pets of Texas. We hope that by providing pets with the healthcare they need, animals and their owners can live better, more enriched lives.

Our team of experienced veterinarians and technical staff handle cases in our four Texas locations, offering expert care in-person as well as via telemedicine consultations for your pet.

We also offer convenient animal clinics and mobile vaccine clinics for those who can not make it to our physical locations. Check out this weekend’s mobile vaccination locations to find one near you! We have four animal clinic locations in Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Arlington, and Richland Hills.

Talk To Your Penny Paws Veterinarian About the Rabies Vaccination

If you have questions about the rabies vaccine or need to schedule an appointment, give us a call at one of our four main clinics:

  • Arlington/Mansfield: (817) 382-9229
  • Fort Worth: (817) 522-1992
  • Richland Hills: (817) 284-7297
  • Grand Prairie: (682) 253-5711

For your convenience, we also offer the ability to book an appointment online.