What is rabies in dogs and when should your canine companion have the vaccine? In this post, our Pico Rivera 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. 

The CDC reports about 5,000 cases of rabies in animals each year, the majority of which are in 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 

To contract rabies, a dog must come into contact with infected animal saliva or be bitten by an infected animal. It usually takes between 10 and 14 days for your dog to exhibit 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. 

Because animals cannot be tested for rabies, pet parents who find themselves in this situation must choose between quarantining their pet and waiting for symptoms to appear or euthanizing a beloved family member. Even if they do not exhibit symptoms at first, quarantined pets are unlikely 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 Pico Rivera 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 begin to lose efficacy. This is why follow-up booster doses must be administered. 

Boosters, which are intended to immunize any animals that did not respond to the initial dose, should be given to your dog when he or she is 12 to 16 months old, and then every 1 to 3 years depending on the type of vaccine used by your veterinarian.

Is 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 some dogs won't experience any side effects at all from the rabies vaccine. If side effects do occur, they'll typically begin within an hour of vaccination and vanish within one or two days. 

A dog may have a severe reaction to the rabies vaccine in rare cases, usually due to an immune system overreaction. Serious side effects usually manifest themselves immediately or within one or 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 if your dog is vaccinated, the chances of contracting rabies are extremely low. In fact, the rabies vaccine is so effective that vaccinated dogs rarely become infected.

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 rabies vaccinations? Our Pico Rivera vets can administer your pooch's vaccines.