While it's important to vaccinate your dog against serious illnesses, in most cases an owner can opt not to provide this protection for his pet. The exception is the rabies shot, which is mandatory by law, with some exceptions. Your puppy can receive his initial rabies vaccination at the age of 3 months. He'll need a booster shot one year later. In most states, he requires another booster every three years. Some states defer to vaccine labeling for the booster timing.
Rabies, which attacks the central nervous system, is virtually always fatal. Transmitted via saliva, an affected dog can pass the disease to people through biting. In most states, only a licensed veterinarian can immunize an animal against rabies, although some states permit a veterinary technician or specially trained personnel to perform the injection. The Centers for Disease Control website states that an animal is considered immunized against rabies within 28 days of the first vaccination, per blood antibody titers. For a booster shot, the CDC considers the dog immediately immunized. The American Animal Hospital Association vaccination protocol states that rabies shots should be given on the right rear leg.
How often you must vaccinate your dog depends on your state's laws. If your state doesn't specify a precise date, such as every three years, it relies on the vaccine label duration information or refers to the current Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, complied by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, Inc. When you bring your dog in for a shot, the vet or the approved personnel should inform you when the animal is due for a booster.
It's bad enough if your dog bites someone. If he isn't vaccinated or he's overdue for his booster, you've got a bigger problem. The same holds true if your dog is bitten by a wild or strange animal. Most states require a mandatory 10-day quarantine period for a dog in this situation. Depending on state law, the quarantine takes place at either an approved facility or owner's home. However, in some states, the quarantine period lasts six months, with dog boarding at the approved facility charged to the owner. If you can't pay the bill, you can opt to euthanize your dog.
Some owners might not want their dogs vaccinated against rabies for various reasons, including old age, previous reactions to vaccines or current illness. Some states do permit exemptions in certain cases. In California, for example, a veterinarian might exempt a dog from vaccination if she believes the injection could endanger the dog's life. In Illinois, exemption is permitted if the vet feels the vaccine could compromise the animal's health. However, such exemptions should not be taken lightly, and any veterinary exemption must adhere to the strictest standards. If the exemption is due to a temporary condition, such as illness, the dog should receive a vaccination as soon as he recovers.
- Centers for Disease Control: Rabies Vaccination
- American Veterinary Medical Association: Administration of Rabies Vaccination State Laws
- DVM360: Rabies Vaccination -- Should Veterinarians Exempt or Not?
- American Humane Association: Rabies Facts and Prevention Tips
- University of Tennessee: Canine and Feline Vaccine Protocols
- Centers for Disease Control: Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, 2011
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.