Ask the RV Vet
With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
Dear Pet Doc,
We travel during the summer, mostly in the West, with a Lab and Golden Retriever. The dogs were vaccinated against rabies a few years ago in Colorado, but we wonder if their vaccines are good in every state where we travel. —Dawn R.
This is a great question which should have an easy answer. But I think a little background information is needed first.
Rabies is a zoonotic virus, meaning humans are susceptible. The virus is transferred through a bite and/or saliva from an infected animal. It affects only mammals. Some wildlife species are like a reservoir for the virus, including raccoons, skunks and bats. It would be impossible to keep all wildlife vaccinated, so the best way to keep the virus in check is to keep our pets vaccinated.
From a legal standpoint, most states have statutes requiring dogs, at the least, to be vaccinated. Some states give the statute power to counties or municipalities, and some also include cats, ferrets and horses. Most states require that the vaccine is administered only by a licensed veterinarian. You may occasionally find the vaccine for sale in backwoods feed stores, and you could, theoretically, give the injection to your dogs. However, most states will not recognize the viability of an owner-administered rabies vaccine.
The rules for what happens if your dog bites a human vary from state to state. But if your dog is vaccinated against rabies, the rules are much more straightforward. At the most, your dog will have to be kept in quarantine for a specific amount of time, sometimes up to four months. But if your dog isn’t vaccinated, there are only two choices: keep the dog in an approved facility for quarantine, likely for months, or have it tested for rabies. The only test for rabies is to examine the dog’s brain tissue, and the only way to do that is, sadly, euthanize the dog and send it to a state laboratory for brain tissue examination.
Yes, that seems extreme, but it shows how seriously the medical community views rabies. And it’s also another reason to keep your dogs vaccinated! When I was in vet school, we heard this refrain over and over: “Think Rabies First.” We cannot let our guard down when it comes to preventing this horrible disease.
SOME RABIES VACCINES are labeled as 1-year, others as 3-year. A suitable, typical rabies vaccine protocol is to have your dogs vaccinated at 3-4 months of age, then again in a year, then annually or every three years, depending on the vaccine your veterinarian uses.
Cat owners, take note: This information applies to you, as well. More cats than dogs are diagnosed with rabies every year, mainly feral cats. But if your cat goes outside, it may encounter these homeless felines and be at risk.
So, Dawn, yes, your dogs’ rabies vaccinations are “good” in any of the continental states you may travel to, as long as they are current. Here’s what you need to do:
—ALWAYS make sure your dogs’ vaccines are up to date. Call your vet and ask.
—ALWAYS travel with their proof of rabies vaccine certificates.
—Check with your vet about requirements for traveling to Hawaii, Canada, or Mexico.
—Do not let your dogs interact with wildlife.
—Do not touch or try to help any wild animal that acts “sick.” This would include a bat that doesn’t fly away when you approach. It may have rabies. Instead, call a law enforcement agency and have them take care it.
Deanna Tolliver, MS, DVM
Interested in learning more about Rabies? Read this fascinating book.
Dr. Deanna welcomes your questions. Email her at YourRVvet@gmail.com
Dr. Deanna Tolliver has been a full-time RVer for a little more than 3 years, although she has been an RVer for several more. She pulls a fifth wheel with her 1-ton dually truck. Her travel companions include 4 small dogs (3 Chihuahuas: Tootie, Chiquita, and BooBoo, and a Yorkie, Janie), and a 36-year-old Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot named Toby. She has a BS and MS in biology and zoology, respectively, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She owned a veterinary hospital for many years and recently handed over the reins to a new owner. Her hobbies include sewing, especially quilting, crafts, reading and writing.
Can you talk about Valley fever and how it is spread? What areas/locals where we need to be on guard for our pets? How dangerous is it for cats?
Thanks for the idea, Cheryl. Many of my rv friends are in the Southwest now, and that question has come up more than once. I’ll be addressing that soon.
I would like to ask the vet this question:
Is it really necessary to keep vaccinating for rabies for a dog over 15 years old? Does the vaccine wear off over the 1 to 3 year period or can it build up over time and at a certain point be “overkill”?
Good question. The reality is that after a dog receives its initial vaccine, and then is boostered 2-3 times, it may have immunity for life. But because of the seriousness of rabies, and the potential for human exposure, most state laws require boosters for life. If you stopped giving the vaccine for several years, and your dog bit a human, regardless of the reason, your dog may have to be in quarantine for up to 6 months. Thanks for the question!