During the month of January, I will be writing about topics related to dog and cat vaccination. Although pets often receive multiple vaccines, there is only one disease for which vaccination is required by law: RABIES. In the U.S., all 50 states require vaccination for rabies. Most states specify this is for dogs and cats, but a few states, such as Washington and Vermont, also include ferrets in their statutes. Rabies vaccination of dogs, cats, and ferrets is required for one reason: to protect human health. Did you know that before 1960, most animal cases of rabies were in domesticated animals (like dogs, cats, and horses)? Now, over 90% of animal cases are in wildlife. In the early 1900’s, there were more than 100 human deaths caused by the rabies virus, whereas presently there are only one or two per year. This life-saving flip-flop occurred due to widespread rabies vaccination of domestic animals. In sharp contrast to the situation in the U.S., an estimated 55,000 people die from rabies worldwide each year. The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system in mammals, and by the time symptoms are present, the disease is nearly always fatal.
In Pennsylvania, the Rabies Act was signed into law in December 1986. The law includes control measures for both wildlife and domestic animals. In September of 2013, the PA State Legislature passed Act 65, which amends the 1986 Rabies Act. As a veterinarian, I find that there are often questions about the rabies law. Here is a summary of Act 65 and how it impacts you:
- Kennel operators are now required to collect proof of up-to-date rabies vaccination of every dog as it enters the kennel. This proof must be kept on file for 7 days after the dog leaves the kennel. In the event there is a dog fight in a kennel, each owner of a dog involved in the attack must be provided with all rabies vaccination records and owner contact information.
- Dogs and cats must be vaccinated for rabies between 12 and 16 weeks of age.
- Dogs and cats must receive their next rabies vaccine 12-14 months after the initial one.
- After that, rabies vaccines are good for however long the label on the vaccine states. For most of the currently marketed rabies vaccines, this means 3 years. In the future, if we have a rabies vaccine with a 5-year label, the law allows us to write a certificate for 5 years. It’s worth mentioning here that studies are underway to show whether rabies vaccines give immunity that lasts longer than 3 years. You can learn more about this at Rabies Challenge Fund.
- A veterinarian can now exempt a dog or cat from receiving a rabies vaccination, if he or she has examined the animal and determines it would be medically inadvisable to give the rabies vaccine. The veterinarian must write a letter explaining why the animal must not get a rabies shot, and the letter is good for one year. Note that this animal is considered unvaccinated and cannot be boarded in a licensed kennel, and also would have to undergo a 6-month quarantine if exposed to rabies.
- Licensed veterinarians must give the rabies vaccine. If the licensed veterinarian is on the premises, he or she may give oral or written instructions to a certified veterinary technician to administer the rabies vaccine.
- The law states that veterinarians must give you a Certificate of Vaccination and a metal rabies tag bearing the year of vaccination.
- The owner of a dog or cat must show proof of rabies vaccination or the medical exemption letter within 48 hours after a dog warden, police officer, or other designated animal control officer requests the proof.
On New Years Day in the Palm Beach, FL area, two dogs were attacked by a raccoon that later tested positive for rabies. Thankfully, both dogs were vaccinated for rabies and are undergoing a 45-day quarantine in their home as a precaution. This recent event illustrates how important it is to keep your pets vaccinated against rabies, both to protect their health and your family’s health. Are your pets rabies vaccinations overdue? Contact any local veterinary office for an appointment, or visit a vaccine clinic in your area. If you have questions about rabies and rabies vaccination that I didn’t cover, post a comment and I’ll answer as soon as I can!