Rabies is a deadly viral infection that can infect virtually any mammal, including dogs, cats, and human beings. The virus causes fatal neurological/central nervous system (CNS) disease. No cure exists for animals. Because rabies virus can infect humans, rabies vaccines for dogs and cats are required by law and the administration is highly controlled by multiple governmental agencies.
Rabies vaccine (i.e. rabies shot) is available for dogs and cats to protect against infection from the rabies virus. The vaccine is available in a one year formulation and a three-year formulation, which will provide up to one year or up to three years of protection from rabies virus, respectively. Unlike many vaccines for dogs and cats, only a licensed veterinarian can give rabies vaccines.
Rabies Vaccine Schedule for Dogs and Cats
For puppies and kittens, an initial shot can be given as early as 12 weeks of age, boostered in 1 year, and then given every 1-3 years. For adults, the vaccine needs to be boostered one year from the first shot, then every one to three years. How often to give the rabies vaccine booster depends on local and state government requirements.
Regulations for boostering are important to understand as a pet owner, because if your pet is not up to date on their rabies vaccine, you may be liable for legal consequences (e.g. fines, pet quarantines, etc.). You can contact your local animal control or your state and local county/parish for more information on rabies vaccine requirements. Your local veterinarian will also be aware of legal requirements.
Rabies Vaccine Cost
Because rabies vaccines are required by law and only a veterinarian can give them, your pet will likely need a physical examination or check up from your vet before being vaccinated. Local and/or state governments also frequently require license and rabies tag fees to be paid in addition to the cost of the vaccine checkup. This tends to make rabies vaccines a little more expensive than other types of vaccines. Your local veterinarian will be able to provide you with a break down on costs/fees.
Is the Rabies Vaccine Covered by Pet Health Insurance?
A rabies vaccine is considered a routine or preventative procedure and, therefore, not covered by most pet insurance companies. However, it could be covered under the pet wellness plan that can be purchased in addition to your pet's insurance policy.
Rabies Vaccine Side Effects
Localized pain and/or swelling at the injection site may occur. This is not uncommon with any vaccine and should improve with time. In rare cases, pets may have alopecia (hair loss) and/or thickened skin at the site of vaccination. Some pets will require medication to improve the area, whereas other pets will improve with time. In some dogs, this reaction can happen with all future rabies vaccines given. Because of the seriousness of the disease and legal consequences, the decision to risk further symptoms by continuing to vaccinate for rabies should be considered very carefully.
Another more serious side effect of rabies vaccine is a vaccine reaction. This can be life threatening. Symptoms include hives or red blotches on the stomach, swelling of the face, and/or trouble breathing. If you notice these symptoms, call your veterinarian immediately. Your pet may need medications prior to giving the rabies vaccine in the future to prevent another reaction. For very serious vaccine reactions, continuing to vaccinate for rabies may be risky. Again, because of the potential legal and disease consequences, this decision should be considered carefully. Your veterinarian will be able to help you decide what is best for your pet.
They can also discuss any other concerns you have about rabies vaccine and/or consequences.