It’s that time again: time for your dog to get her rabies shot. Wait! Proceed with caution. This is a serious medical procedure. And no, you can’t just leave it to your vet. Please read on for answers to questions you may not even have thought to ask.
How long do rabies vaccines last? The “three-year” vaccine has been proven by vaccine manufacturers, to the satisfaction of the US Department of Agriculture, to be effective for at least three years. Despite this, many veterinarians vaccinate every one or two years. In fact, in a recent article by Edie Lau for the Veterinary Information News Service, the Vice-President of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association admitted that he gives a “3 year” rabies vaccine every 2 years! Surely, these vets have seen the “3” on the label. Or have read the 1992 French study proving five year immunity, or the blood studies suggesting seven or more years immunity. The Rabies Challenge Fund (a nonprofit funded solely by dog lovers) expects to confirm five year immunity in the US by November 2012 and seven years immunity two years later.
Why is vaccinating more often than required a problem? In addition to the unnecessary expense for the office visit and innoculations, this shot can be dangerous for your dog. According to a 2008 Report: “Rabies vaccines are the most common group of biological products identified in adverse event reports received by the USDA’s Center for Veterinary Biologics (CVB).”
Adverse reactions, by percentage reported, include: Vomiting-28.1%; facial swelling-26.3%; injection site swelling or lump-19.4%; lethargy-12%; urticaria-10.1%; circulatory shock-8.3%; injection site pain-7.4%; pruritus-7.4%; injection site alopecia or hair loss-6.9%; death-5.5%; lack of consciousness-5.5; diarrhea-4.6%; hypersensitivity (not specified)-4.6%; fever-4.1%;, anaphylaxis-2.8%; ataxia-2.8%; lameness-2.8%; general signs of pain-2.3%; hyperactivity-2.3%; injection site scab or crust-2.3%;, muscle tremor-2.3%; tachycardia-2.3%; and thrombocytopenia-2.3%.
Even adverse reactions occuring within several days of vaccination are reported only an estimated 1% of the time (according to a former FDA official). Most long-term reactions are not reported at all — or even recognized. Long-term studies using a large number of dogs are not performed because of the expense. Long-term reactions, to name just some, include injection-site and other tumors, autoimmune diseases, lack of rear end coordination and seizures. Read the comments on my rabies vaccine reactions page for reactions reported by readers of this blog. And see other reactions reported by this holistic veterinarian.
Do you have a knowledgeable vet? Has your vet informed you of the potential health risks of the rabies vaccine? Has your vet told you about the legal requirements? Or explained about the possibility of a medical exemption for your health compromised dog? If not, why?
Why would vets (and localities) vaccinate more often than legally and medically required? Perhaps because of increased revenue from county license fees and vet visits, or ignorance of current laws, or fear that clients can’t be trusted to vaccinate on time. To my mind, however, vaccinating more often than legally required, and more often than manufacturers recommend, without informing clients of the law, manufacturer recommendations and potential health risks, is unethical and a violation of the legal doctrine of informed consent. It may also be consumer fraud.
Why is there a one-year vaccine and a three-year vaccine? World-renowned vaccination expert Dr. Ron Schultz, whose studies have been the basis for guidelines for the WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association), AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association), AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) and other organizations confirmed this in our vaccination DVD (see below). In his report “What Everyone Needs to Know About Canine Vaccines and Vaccination Programs” he wrote: “There is no benefit from annual rabies vaccination and most one year rabies products are similar or identical to the 3-year products with regard to duration of immunity and effectiveness.”
Ms. Lau wrote in her article, “Manufacturers’ representatives say a key distinction between most one- and three-year rabies vaccines is the testing they undergo to demonstrate the duration for which they confer immunity.” She added: “Some one- and three-year formulations do differ, but exactly in what ways is considered a trade secret.”
That is, manufacturers test basically the same formulation for one year for the one-year shot, then stop the study. The three-year vaccine study is stopped at three years. How long these vaccines might potentially last is unknown. And manufacturer’s have no incentive to find out.
Is the one-year shot safer than the three-year? No. In fact, it’s probably more dangerous because it has to be given much more often.
Why label the vaccine “one-year” if it really lasts three years? In short, to simplify paper work. The USDA requires an initial shot followed by another a year later. That is, one-year shots require a “booster” a year later; three year shots require boosters three years later.The different labels make record keeping easier.
At present, every state in the US requires an initial “one-year” shot (around 3-6 months of age) followed a year later by the three-year vaccine, with revaccination every three years thereafter.
What you need to know about the two rabies vaccines:
- If you give the one-year vaccine when the three-year vaccine is due, you will have to vaccinate one year later even if the vaccines are identical.
- If you can’t prove the one-year vaccine was followed by the three-year vaccine a year later, or if a three-year wasn’t followed by another within three years, you will have to start all over again.
- Vets lose records and make errors. Check the vaccine label BEFORE your dog is vaccinated and check the license paperwork and vet notes immediately afterward. Paperwork, not reality, rules.
- If you are even one day late with the vaccine, and your dog bites someone, your local Animal Control will control your dog’s fate. They can mandate in-house quarantine or in-shelter quarantine or even euthanasia — depending on where you live. Proof of strong antibody titers is not a legal substiture for vaccination paperwork.
- A licensed veterinarian must give the innoculation and provide you with accurate paperwork. Otherwise, your dog will require revaccination.
- Give the rabies shot 3-4 weeks apart from the distemper/parvovirus booster or any other vaccine, heartworm med, flea med, etc. Failure to do so will greatly increase the likelihood of a rabies reaction.
- According to manufacturer’s label recommendations, only healthy dogs should be vaccinated. if your dog has a documented history of health problems, or problems with this or any other vaccines, you may be able to get a special exemptiono or postponement from your local Animal Control. (Consult your vet or local animal control for exemption requirements; exemption availability varies from locale to locale. Willingness to request an exemption varies from vet to vet. Again, you may have to vet shop.)
Which brand should you use? All of the US brands used “killed” vaccines, not “modified live” vaccines. A “modified live” vaccine would be too dangerous as sometimes, although rarely, it can cause the disease it is meant to prevent.
Many of my veterinarian friends mostly recommend the Merial IMRAB TF 1 or 3 year. For cats, the Merial PUREVAX Feline Rabies. But remember, all rabies vaccines have the potential of causing serious adverse reactions. And some animals will react differently to different vaccines.
“TF” stands for thimerosol free, that is, free of a mercury adjuvant. Mercury is used as a preservative in vaccines, and can be present even if it is not on the label. The ingredients are part of the proprietary stew. Many experts believe it to be dangerous. Note: Several manufacturers offer thimerosol-free rabies vaccines.
Unfortunately, most vets carry only one brand and it’s probably not thimerosol free. In larger practices, some of the vets may not even like the brand they carry. It is often selected by price, because the senior partner or corporate buyer like it and/or because one manufacturer’s rep does a better job than another. You cannot buy the brand you want and vaccinate yourself. Most vets won’t even order the brand you want if you offer to pay for a whole case.
How do you get the brand you want? Find another vet.
So, as you see, rabies vaccination is a complicated, potentially dangerous, procedure. Educate your self and proceed with caution.
Unless your dog is granted a rabies vaccination exemption, you are legally required to vaccinate. Vaccination with any vaccine is serious business. Your dog’s future health, and even her life, may be at stake. Vaccinate cautiously.
*** Renowned pet vaccination scientists Drs. Jean Dodds and Ron Schultz spoke at my Safer Pet Vaccination Benefit Seminar in 2010. Click here to purchase a DVD of the event, the proceeds of which benefit the Rabies Challenge Fund.
Other articles of interest: