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Rabies in Dogs and Cats: How To Avoid The Biggest Mistakes Pet Owners Make

By Dr. Andrew Jones

Rabies- just the word alone evokes images of fear, frothing aggressive dogs, and death. The movie “Old Yeller” left a generation convinced that Rabies vaccine is a necessity, for all pets. In this article I am going to give you a better understanding of Rabies, the real risks to you and your pet, and what you need to do to prevent it, and let you know if vaccines are really necessary.

Rabies is a relatively uncommon viral disease that affects mammals, causing inflammation in the brain, otherwise known as encephalitis. It is spread via bite wounds from other animals; in North America the primary reservoirs for the disease are bats, skunks and raccoons. The virus travels from the bite wound, through the nervous system, and eventually to the brain. The disease can be treated prior to reaching the brain, but is inevitably fatal if it has time to spread.

The signs of Rabies start similar to many viral infections; flu like symptoms of fever, lethargy, decreased energy and decreased appetite. The virus can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks to spread from the bite wound to the brain. Once in the brain the ‘classic’ Old Yeller clinical signs can be seen: aggressive, erratic behavior, otherwise known as the furious phase. This then proceeds to the paralytic phase with increased salivation, loss of muscle control, paralysis, and eventually death as the breathing system is affected.

The incidence of Rabies in North America is relatively low, with virtually all of the cases occurring in the Eastern United States. In Canada in 2011, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reported 1 dog positive in Quebec, and 2 cats positive in Saskatchewan and Manitoba ( 3 animals total). British Columbia’s last positive case was a cat in 2007. In 2009 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States reported 300 cases of Rabies in cats, 81 cases in dogs, and 4 human cases. The North American dog and cat population is estimated at 130 million, so the incidence of Rabies is approximately .003%, which means that it is extremely rare.

Rabies is easily preventable with vaccines, but there are concerns as to the timing of the vaccine, the vaccine side effects, and how often it needs to be given. Most veterinarians advise giving the first rabies vaccine at 12 weeks, followed up with a booster 1 year later, then to be given every 1-3 years therafter. Rabies vaccine is associated with a number of serious diseases, and these include: autoimmune diseases such as hemolytic anemia, polyarthritis, thyroid disease, anaphylactic shock, epilepsy, vaccine injection site cancer ( fibrosarcoma), and polyneuropathy (the muscles/nerves are affected).

The risks of the vaccines need to be weighed against the risks of getting the disease. Based on the real health risks, my suggestions are to wait until your dog or cat is 6 months of age before giving the first rabies vaccine. Do not give it in combination with other vaccines, and avoid giving it if your pet is sick in any way. Depending on provincial or state laws, (as in many require you to have the rabies vaccine at certain intervals), I would advise having a rabies titre check performed by your veterinarian at 1 year, and only revaccinating if the titre level is not deemed to be protective. Immunologist Dr. Ronald Schultz’s has studies showing that dogs have antibody titres with rabies immunity 7 years after vaccination.

Rabies is a very serious disease in pets, but the risks of your dog or cat contracting it is extremely low. The rabies vaccine itself is one of the more potent veterinary vaccines, with a host of side effects. As a pet owner, you should carefully consider vaccinating your pet for this disease, giving it as infrequent as possible, and discussing the use of antibody titres with your veterinarian. Your pet may be fully protected and no longer need the vaccine.

Dr Andrew J

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Topics: Cat Care, Cat Health, Dog Care, Dog Health, Pet Care, Pet health | 22 Comments »

22 Responses to “Rabies in Dogs and Cats: How To Avoid The Biggest Mistakes Pet Owners Make”


  1. Linda Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 5:27 am

    Do you agree with the amount of rabies injected into each dog? That even the smallest dogs, like teacup yorkie gets the same amount of rabies vaccine as great dane or mastiff?
    I disagree greatly with the amounts needed-it should be based on the weight of the dog, but it’s not:(

  2. Rolando M. Lagarto Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 5:31 am

    Maybe that’s the reason my rottweiler died after 4yrs of a healthy living full of energy with cunning…

  3. wendy Maclean-Coddington Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 6:03 am

    I stopped having my Dogs vaccinated for Rabies about 9 yrs ago and now have second generation Rhodesian Ridgebacks with NO Vaccines..I am a firm believer it does more damage than good to the Dogs and many breeders feel the same..
    I travel to the US to Shows as many of my friends do…everything is possible…..
    When i sell a Puppy the contract states no Rabies Vaccines to be given..and if done Health Contract is Void (Same goes for my Persian and Himalayan Kittens)…W

  4. Cathey Sutton Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 6:05 am

    I think your the smartest Vets. I totally agree with everything you say. Since my 2 3yr old Rottweilers have been on your supplement & I only home cook for them, they have never been sick & their skin, coats.eye,teeth etc… are perfect. Keep supplying us with very informative info! Thank from Cathey, Marlie & Paislie

  5. Kaye Buckler Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 6:14 am

    Excellent article! I completely agree with having the titres test done to see how your animal’s levels are.. Just like humans, they are going to react differently to meds, vaccines and food.

    Thanks for all you do to help us Dr. Jones! I value your opinion.

  6. sharon sharpstone Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 7:34 am

    I have not vaccinated my dogs for anything in the last twelve years and I have never had a problem. I have researched vaccinations in dogs lots of times over the years and decided I did not want to put these chemicals into my dogs, this is done with the full knowledge of my vet.

  7. Jean Holley Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 7:56 am

    With humans, supplements such as grapefruit seed extract and oil of oregano will KILL viruses, bacteria and molds. Will they work for dogs? Couldn’t these be offered as a cure instead vaccines and all their side effects. In other words, doesn’t make more SENSE to just cure it in the extremely rare possibility that it might happen, than to try and prevent it and give the much more likely side effects. Where is common sense?

  8. Tina Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 8:19 am

    my first dog i give him all the shots that the vet suggested ,little did i know that they are soooo toxic.He ended up with a lot of health problems,that I read about that are from overvaccinating.Blood transfussion,cancer.Its aweful.Took him to the michican where We got the blood done,and the vet there give us in writing for canadian vet not to vaccinate him at all anymore.KNOW I Have 2 new puupies and since i picked them up from the breeder i have not giving them any .And the God they are ok.

  9. DonnaJean Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 9:03 am

    My county/state require rabies vaccine every 3 years. That is the ONLY required vaccine, so I have to get them for all my dogs.

    As for the other vaccines, because I do not know the history of any of my dogs when I got them as pups, I allow the vet to give them their “puppy vaccines” at 16 weeks, to be sure they do not overlap with any potential immunities from the mother, and mostly to protect from Parvo/Distemper, which can be carried on people’s clothing from an infected dog, and passed on to mine without any direct exposure.

    None of my dogs have ever had/required boosters for DPT.

  10. Sylvia Wade Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 9:03 am

    If you do not vacinate your dogs/cats how can you get them across the border when travelling?

  11. joanne Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 9:17 am

    this is great timing as I have been torn between deciding on rabies vaccine for my puppy..you were my vet before you retired, I miss you and value your opinion…we lost one of our dogs to an auto immune disease, you and Leanne thought it was a reaction from a vaccine she had received..she was 3..my puppy is almost 5 months old and i was considering waiting until she was a year old for rabies vaccination..i am researching before making my choice and this helps.thank you

  12. Syl Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Here in the USA it is the law that our dogs receive the rabies vaccine. We have no choice on this. I use your supplement and will have my dog vaccinated with other things every 3 years like you suggest.

  13. Debra Owen Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    I agree with you..less is best with vaccines..but state law requires the vaccines every 3 years in adult pets (USA/NC). If the animal bites someone,(us included) at least we have some assurance that our animals will test negative for the disease. They uthanize any animal that bites after 30 days ..if they had not had their adult rabies vaccines. Any animal will bite if they feel threatened – so best be prepared and take my chances with the rabies. I try to control our 3 pets..(2 cats, 1 dog)…and only get boosters every 3 yrs at the time they get their rabies shots. Never know if the Husky or cats will accidently get out and have access to other critters ..we have all the normal wildlife…and now an overpopulation of coyotes and foxes in this area (Charlotte, NC). The cats are strictly indoor pets..Ryker the Husky has a chain link fenced kennel and run area of about 1/3 an acre…nothing can get in with him unless it jumps over or climbs the fence.

  14. Cathey Sutton Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    I do vaccinate at puppies (at 2 week intravals) so there body isn’t bombarded with all those meds at one time. They had their rabies at puppy age but they are 3 yrs old know and I’m confused(scared) to give them the rabies shot( I would give anyother vaccin). My dogs are inside & my best friends & don’t know to give them a vaccination that could possibly kill them nor would I just die if they nipped someone and was told I had to put them to sleep. That would never happen.. I’d take my dogs & no one would ever find us!

  15. Nance Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    I now avoid vaccinating my dogs for rabies unless forced into it. I used to comply with the law and sadly I lost my “heart” dog at the age of five years due to an autoimmune disease from the rabies shot. It broke my heart. I also disagree with giving a 7# dog the same amount of vaccine as a 100# dog. It doesn’t seem right. Titers are the way to go although the state won’t accept those – they still want the shot given. It’s very unfair.

  16. Sandy Miller Says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    I am really frustrated. My vet refuses to titer and he’s completely sold on the mainstream veterinary lies. I can’t afford a holistic vet. I have Cerebral Palsy and can hardly afford or cook enough organic food for myself, much less my dog. My service dog trainer told me I could get by on $50.00/month upkeep for my dog. That’s just not true. Although I love my dog dearly, when he’s gone I will not get another one. I just can’t afford it.

  17. danielle Says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    wow i am just not sure i do not whant to give my dog her rabies shot my husband is saying she needs her rabies shot and despemper and a nother one i do not whant to do any of these so what opions whould you do

  18. April Leigh Says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    Hey There Dr. Andrew,

    Well I think you have nailed this one but think it might be too late for our own puppy.
    I always thought that ‘shots’ were necessary for pets.I stand corrected. I have already had Dexter given his first 2 rounds of ‘shots’ and his rabies shot.

    Come to think of it that is about the time that he started scratching! Every time he comes in from the yard and when he is finished eating and most suddenly while he sleeps , he will suddenly jump up and chew the base of his tail and the underneath of it. Could the rabies vaccine have caused this?
    The vet recommended a steriod shot. I said no and brought him home. I bathe Dexter in a Calendula bathing soap.It helps a bit! We have Aloe but I don’t know if it is safe for him to lick. sigh.
    I love your articles! Keep up the helpfulness!

  19. bsalivahana Says:
    October 30th, 2011 at 2:43 am

    dear sir ,I read some time back that vaccinating pets against rabies may protect the pet but it may probably risk the owner because [sometime the dogs may harbour the virus like jackals and foxes as carriers like natural carrier of vampire bats ]the virus remains in body in dormant state [and may act as carrier]potential threat to the pet owner ? is it correct ? Kindly clarifysubstantiate with scientific research work if so. Yours sincerely .

  20. Noralyn S. Radam Says:
    February 1st, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    My friend’s dog who had complete vaacine shots 3 5-in-1 shots and on the 6th month had her rabies shots. The pom started to have soft stools the next day, and started to deteriorate after 5 days. She is now onfined with IV fluids and the vetsaid she is positive for Parvo!!!
    Dr. Jones, can a dog survive parvo? Pls help…

  21. DogMom Says:
    February 3rd, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Our first few dogs (all small size) were given routine vaccines and they all had serious health problems and died at ages 10-12 years. Our next pack of 4 was never vaccinated and were fed only a raw meat diet. These dogs were incredibly healthy and lived to be 20 years old. Never vaccinate your pet; feed it a raw organic meat diet and you will have animals with a strong immune system who won’t be ill, diseased or have a short life. Thank you to the natural vet who educated us on all this. That’s all we use now.

  22. Dr. Andrew Jones Says:
    February 4th, 2014 at 5:03 am

    Thank You Dog Mom for the words of experience and how following your lead our dogs/cats can really be healthier and live longer.

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Dr. Andrew Jones, DVM
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