July 25, 2017

AVMA 2017: Rabies Vaccination - What You Need to Know

Dr. Richard Ford enlightened attendees about the widely varying regulations regarding rabies vaccination throughout the country.
By Kim Campbell Thornton


At the 2017 American Veterinary Medical Association Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, Richard Ford, DVM, MS, DACVIM, spoke about must-know issues related to rabies vaccination. The audience-participation lecture touched on legal issues regarding rabies vaccination that affect veterinarians, owners, the public and, of course, animals.

Much about rabies law is confusing and conflicting, Dr. Ford noted. Not understanding it or misinterpreting it can lead to legal liability for humans and quarantine or euthanasia for animals.

Laws regarding rabies vaccination of animals are not consistent throughout the United States. Some states, such as New Jersey, mandate rabies vaccinations for dogs but not for cats. Minnesota, Kansas, and Ohio have no state law requiring pets to be vaccinated for rabies. Many states allow vaccination of hybrid animals, such as wolf hybrids, coydogs, or ocicats, but they don’t recognize the vaccination. “If a pet ocicat or wolf hybrid is exposed, it is subject to euthanasia,” Dr. Ford said.

Exposure and Euthanasia
The definition of the term exposure varies widely from state to state. It’s important to understand the state’s definition and the factors that define rabies exposure. It’s also important to know that the state public health authority makes the final determination, not the veterinarian.

If a dog or cat is determined to have been exposed to rabies, most state laws dictate a 45-day home quarantine. What are the consequences of exposure for a pet who is exposed but unvaccinated? Most state laws today follow the 2016 revised rabies compendium guidelines, which call for a 4-month strict quarantine. Animals must usually be vaccinated at the time of entry into quarantine and often must be vaccinated within 96 hours of exposure.

Euthanasia and testing are not required if a currently unvaccinated dog bites a person. Some veterinarians assume this is required, but it’s not. The dog is subject to a 10-day home quarantine with revaccination on release. That is the law in the majority of states.

Euthanasia can, however, be required in certain instances. Dr. Ford cited the case of a dog 2 months past due for a rabies booster. The dog bit the child next door, and the child’s parent insisted that the dog be euthanized and tested rather than waiting for the 10-day home quarantine period. The state public health authority agreed. The dog was not infected with rabies.

Rabies Vaccination Requirements
This raises the question of when an animal is considered to be “currently vaccinated.” A dog is not considered to be vaccinated until 28 days after the initial inoculation. Rabies vaccinations are considered outdated 1 day beyond the 1-year or 3-year anniversary of the vaccination. (Generally, the only difference between the 1-year rabies vaccine and the 3-year rabies vaccine is how it’s labeled.) On revaccination, the pet is considered immunized immediately.

It’s also important to know who is authorized to administer a rabies vaccine. Usually, the answer is a licensed veterinarian. Some states require that a licensed and accredited veterinarian administer the vaccination, while others permit vaccines to be given by a licensed veterinary technician working under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian. Two states, Kentucky being one of them, entitle owners to give a rabies vaccine, but they must first take a course. In North Carolina, several counties are not served by a veterinarian. The state has identified “certificated rabies vaccinators” who are permitted to administer vaccines.

In Michigan, statutes specify who is entitled to deliver a vaccine to which species. A licensed veterinarian may vaccinate ferrets, for instance, but a licensed and accredited veterinarian is required to vaccinate dogs. A licensed veterinarian or a veterinary technician under the supervision of a veterinarian may vaccinate cats. Owners are permitted to administer vaccinations to livestock such as cattle, horses and sheep.

Each state’s department of public health determines the requirements, following the guidelines of the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control. The rabies compendium is written and updated periodically by members of the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians.

Veterinarians are available who can do presentations on a particular state’s rabies requirements. For more information on an individual state’s rabies law, visit rabiesaware.org.

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