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What is rabies in dogs and when should your canine companion have the vaccine? In this post, our Scottsdale vets discuss how often dogs need these shots, potential side effects and more.

What is rabies and how can it impact my pet's health?

The deadly rabies virus can severely impact the brain and is transmitted through contact with an infected animal's saliva. Pets, livestock, wildlife, and humans can all be affected. 

Each year, the CDC records about 5,000 cases of rabies in animals, the majority of which involve wild animals. The animals most likely to carry this virus are bats, raccoons, foxes, and skunks.

This virus is almost always fatal. Once signs of the deadly virus appear, the animal can typically be expected to die within a few days. 

How Rabies Incubates & Spreads 

A dog would need to come in contact with the saliva of an infected animal or be bitten by an infected animal in order to get rabies. Your dog typically takes between 10 and 14 days to begin exhibiting symptoms.

However, symptoms can take months or years to appear depending on how your pet was exposed to the virus. 

Symptoms of Rabies

Dogs with rabies may exhibit numerous signs and symptoms, including:

  • Barking differently
  • Excessive drooling
  • Uncharacteristic aggression, fearfulness, or even affection 
  • Overreaction to touch, sound or light 
  • Biting at the site where they were exposed to the virus 
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Loss of balance when walking 
  • Partial or complete paralysis
  • Falling 
  • Seizures

No Test for Rabies

If your pet comes into contact with an infected animal and isn't vaccinated against rabies, you will end up having to make some very difficult choices. 

As there is no way to test animals for rabies, pet owners who find themselves in this situation must choose between euthanizing a beloved family member or quarantining their pet and watching for symptoms to appear. Even if they initially do not exhibit symptoms, confined animals are not likely to survive.

No Treatment for Rabies

Once your dog has been infected with rabies, there is nothing a veterinarian can do to help him recover. Your only options are quarantine or euthanasia. This is why prevention is so important.

What is the rabies vaccine?

Rabies vaccines are highly effective and immunogenic. It's rare for the vaccine to fail.

Requirements regarding pet vaccinations vary from city to city and state to state, but keeping your pet's rabies vaccines up to date protects both your dog and the people in your household against this deadly neurological disease. 

How often do dogs need rabies shots?

While it is not mandated in some jurisdictions, The rabies vaccine is an important one on the list of many puppy and dog vaccinations your pooch needs to protect their health and prevent a variety of deadly diseases. 

Our Scottsdale vets recommend the rabies vaccine as a core vaccine to be given to puppies starting between ages 14 to 16 weeks. It is also part of our core kitten and cat vaccinations. 

Because vaccine antibodies wane over time, the rabies vaccine will lose efficacy. This is why booster doses must be given in the future.

Boosters, which are intended to immunize any animals that did not respond to the initial dose, should be administered once your dog is 12 to 16 months old and every 1 to 3 years, depending on the type of vaccine your veterinarian uses.

Are there rabies vaccine side effects?

Side effects of rabies vaccinations in dogs will usually be due to the fact that the vaccine stimulates the immune system. These can include:

  • Mild loss of appetite 
  • Mild to moderate energy loss for 24 to 36 hours following vaccination 
  • Mild fever
  • Potential swelling or soreness at the injection site

Some dogs develop a small, painless swelling at the injection site that may last for a couple of weeks. In rare cases, a small, circular area of hair loss may develop at the injection site. 

Keep in mind that the rabies vaccine may have no effect on some dogs. If side effects do occur, they usually appear within an hour of vaccination and disappear within a day or two.

A dog may have a severe reaction to the rabies vaccine on rare occasions, usually due to an immune system overreaction. Serious side effects typically manifest themselves immediately or within one to two hours of vaccination.

Rare reactions to the rabies vaccine include:

  • Cough
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swelling in the face, eyes, or muzzle
  • Severe swelling or pain at the injection site
  • Hives, which appear as firm lumps on the dog's body and may or may not be itchy
  • Fainting or collapse 

Take your dog to a veterinarian for emergency care immediately if you notice any of the symptoms above.

Can my dog get rabies if they are vaccinated?

Even though your dog is immunized, there is a very small chance that they will get rabies. Dogs who have received the rabies vaccine actually hardly ever contract the disease.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your puppy or dog due for their rabies vaccinations? Our Scottsdale vets can administer your pooch's vaccines.

Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

Book Online (480) 391-3699