Keeping your dog in the best health means getting regular vaccinations. And one of the most critical is the rabies vaccine. Because dogs are often outdoors and may be exposed to wildlife, it's important to make sure they are protected against this disease by getting regular vaccinations at your animal hospital.
What Is Rabies?
Rabies is a viral disease that, if untreated, can cause death — so it's very serious. Humans and dogs can get it from the saliva of an infected animal, so it's commonly spread via bites from bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes.
In both humans and dogs, the symptoms include headache, fever, drooling, mental confusion, muscle spasms, and paralysis. Once symptoms start, it's very serious: death is a very real possibility. That's why it's important to get treatment right away if you or your dog is bitten by an animal — and why prevention, in the form of a regular vaccine for your dog, is vital.
How Does the Rabies Vaccine Work?
Like most vaccines, the rabies vaccine stimulates the immune system by introducing a tiny amount of the inactive virus. Your dog's immune system reacts by producing antibodies that can be activated again when exposed to rabies.
In order for your dog's body to maintain these antibodies, a booster shot is given 1 year after the first shot and then every 3 years.
Sometimes, especially with the initial vaccination, your pet may have some minor symptoms, like fever and loss of appetite. This simply means that your dog's immune system is working as it should, but it can be hard to see your dog feeling sick. In very rare situations, dogs can have allergic reactions or experience trouble breathing after getting the shot.
How Can You Minimize Reaction to the Vaccine?
Since it is so important for your dog, important for public health, and mandated by law in the US, it's nearly impossible to avoid getting the rabies vaccine for your dog. Most veterinarians will not see dogs who have not been vaccinated and dog kennels, day cares, and grooming facilities often require proof of rabies vaccination before they'll serve you and your pooch.
So if your dog experiences reactions to the shot, your best bet is to do what you can to minimize that reaction.
Only vaccinate healthy dogs. If your dog is sick, reschedule your appointment in a week or two when they are feeling better.
Spread out vaccines. If your pet needs vaccines for other diseases, give them 2 to 3 weeks after the rabies shot instead of at the same time.
Vaccinate when you can keep an eye on your dog. Don't get the shots, drop your dog off at home, and run to work. Do it in the morning when you are at home, so you can get back to your vet if a reaction worries you.
Never give your dog the rabies vaccine yourself. Some states allow owners or other non-veterinary personnel like groomers to give rabies vaccines. Only have the shot administered at an animal hospital, where a reaction can be treated.
Ask your vet for a thimerosol free vaccine. Thimerosol is a preservative — important so the vaccine fluid is safe — but it contains mercury. You may want to call a couple weeks ahead of your appointment in case your vet has to order it for you.
With the rabies shot or any other vaccine, ask your veterinarian if you have questions. Your vet wants the best for your dog and will work with you to get them vaccinated safely and on schedule.