If a dog or cat has been exposed to rabies and is overdue for a vaccine booster, the animal can now have “a booster shot followed by an observation period rather than be subject to quarantine or euthanasia.” This comes from JAVMA, The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association and will be published soon in the 2016 Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control (the rabies vaccination “bible”) from the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians. The compendium is a compilation of best practices which state laws can follow.
I asked Jean Dodds, DVM, vaccination expert: Does this mean that an overdue dog or cat that has NOT been exposed to rabies can now get just a booster and not have to start the series over again?
Her answer: Yes, that’s what it should mean. Trouble is we still have to see if individual states will accept it. Anyhow – it’s a BIG step forward!
This change comes after the 1-15-15 JAVMA issue reporting on a study by The Rabies Laboratory at the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory entitled: “Comparison of anamnestic responses to rabies vaccination in dogs and cats with current and out-of-date vaccination status” (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2015; 246:205-211). According to the study, “Results indicated that dogs with out-of-date vaccination status were not inferior in their antibody response following booster rabies vaccination, compared with dogs with current vaccination status.”
Dr. Michael C. Moore, lead author of the study, said: “When it comes to vaccinating either people or animals, they don’t just all of a sudden on a predetermined date have zero protection or loss of priming.”
Dr. Catherine M. Brown, co-chair of the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control Committee, said “As before, cats and dogs that are exposed to rabies and are current on vaccination should receive veterinary care and a booster, then be kept under the owner’s control and observed for 45 days.” She added that it is “extraordinarily rare” for an animal with current vaccination status to develop rabies.
According to the compendium: “Alternatively, prior to booster vaccination, the attending veterinarian may request guidance from the local public health authorities in the possible use of prospective serologic monitoring [titer testing]. Such monitoring would entail collecting paired blood samples to document prior vaccination by providing evidence of an anamnestic response to booster vaccination. If an adequate anamnestic response is documented, the animal can be considered to be overdue for booster vaccination … and observed for 45 days.”
If a dog has never been vaccinated, euthanasia after exposure is often the recommendation because of the high risk of developing this disease which is fatal for both pets and humans. The other option is a booster followed by very expensive quarantine. The recommended quarantine period, at least, is now reduced from six months to four. (Note that the study recommended 45 days rather than 4 months.)
Actions to Take Now! Please tell your veterinarian about this important change and encourage him/her to adopt the new recommendations. Here’s is a link to an online version of the JAVMA article and a link to an abstract to the Kansas State study. Don’t presume your veterinarian will have read either. (The wonderful study on the dangers of vaccinating small dogs and cats, published in the Journal in 2005, is virtually unknown in the veterinary community!)