By Adam Lee-Smith
Published: 08/03/2017, edited: 09/29/2022
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Whether they're rolling around in the mud or swimming in a mirky river, dogs seem to rarely get sick. But that doesn't mean dogs can't catch a serious illness. Vaccines are essential as they protect your dog from easily preventable diseases like rabies.
While there are only 60 to 70 reported cases of rabies in dogs in the US annually, rabies is a highly contagious and potentially lethal virus. If dogs aren't vaccinated, herd immunity wanes, and rabies cases rise. But is it possible for dogs to get rabies after being vaccinated? And does a vaccine protect your dog against rabies? Let's take a look!
Can dogs get rabies if vaccinated?
No, it's highly unlikely that your dog will contract rabies after being vaccinated. Some studies suggest a small percentage of dogs fail to reach the minimum level of antibodies needed to protect them against rabies after being vaccinated.
Failure to reach an adequate antibody titer threshold usually occurs due to a dog's age, immune response, or when the antibody test was administered. Typically, an additional rabies booster will resolve a lower-than-expected antibody threshold.
As long as you keep up to date with boosters and allow enough time to pass to build up immunity, your dog won't catch rabies after being vaccinated.
How do vaccines protect dogs from rabies?
Vaccines administer a dose of a killed/inactive version of the rabies virus to your dog. Giving your dog a dead dose of rabies means that the vaccine can't cause disease, but your dog's immune system is still able to build immunity.
Your dog's body will create antibodies that will fight be able to fight off the rabies virus. Once your dog reaches the antibody titer threshold, their immune system will be able to fight off the rabies virus.
As antibodies wane over time, it's crucial you keep up to date with your dog's booster shots. Exposure to a dead version of the virus helps create antibodies, which is why dogs can't get rabies after being vaccinated. It's worth noting that it is against the law not to vaccinate your dog against rabies across most of the US.
Is it okay to be bitten by a vaccinated dog?
If you've been bitten by a dog that's fully vaccinated against rabies, you will not need to seek treatment for rabies.
However, if you can't prove the dog that bit you is fully protected from rabies, you'll need to undergo post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PEP involves receiving a dose of human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) and a rabies vaccine on the day of exposure. People undergoing PEP will receive additional vaccinations on the third, seventh, and fourteenth day after exposure.
If you've had a pre-exposure vaccination to rabies, you only need one dose of the rabies vaccine. A few recognized yet rare adverse reactions to post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) include redness, headaches, nausea, and abdominal pain.
How do you know if a dog has rabies?
It's impossible to tell if a dog has rabies on initial inspection without testing. Dogs with rabies don't show any symptoms until after the incubation period, which can last from 7 days to a year, but usually ends within a couple of weeks.
Additionally, the mortality rate for rabies once a dog starts showing signs of rabies is very high. This means it's usually too late to save a dog's life once they start showing symptoms of rabies.
The best way to know if your dog has rabies is to monitor their outside activity closely. If your dog interacts with a wild animal, or a stray dog acts aggressively towards them, they could have possibly contracted rabies.
Check your dog for bite marks, as this is the most common way for rabies to spread. While rare, it's also possible for rabies to spread by blood or saliva entering an open wound or a mucus membrane in the mouth or eyes.
Unfortunately, the only clinical test for rabies is a direct fluorescent antibody test (dFA), which is taken from a dog's brain tissue after being euthanized. The best way to prevent your dog from contracting rabies is to keep their vaccinations up to date.
Vaccinated dogs that are potentially exposed to rabies will need to be revaccinated immediately and observed for 10 days. Unvaccinated dogs are usually either euthanized or placed in strict 4-month quarantine.
What are the similarities and differences in rabies between dogs and humans?
There are a striking number of similarities between rabies in dogs and humans, as well as a surprising number of differences.
Common similarities between rabies in dogs and rabies in humans include:
- Humans and dogs both commonly suffer from fevers.
- Rabies can cause staggering and make humans and dogs seem disoriented.
- Humans and dogs may both experience anxiety and agitation.
- Once symptoms of rabies appear, humans and dogs both have a high mortality rate.
Common differences in rabies between humans and dogs include:
- Paralysis rabies is more common in dogs, while furious rabies is more common in humans.
- Hydrophobia is a well-known symptom of rabies in humans but is not a recognized symptom for dogs.
- Headaches are an early symptom of rabies in humans, but it is not well-documented in dogs.
- Pica (eating unusual objects) is a common symptom for dogs, while humans are more likely to be agitated or disorientated.
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