This is the big one that every dog owner fears …
Imagine it’s a bright sunny day when you let your dog out to play in your backyard. Then BAM.
You hear a yelp and you look outside to see your dog and a very sick-looking raccoon.
You open the back door and look at your dog and your heart is aching because you think he’s just been dealt a death sentence.
Well, don’t fret just yet!
There have been recent changes in the rabies laws that could mean the difference between life and death for your dog.
What Not To Do
If you suspect your dog may have come across a rabid animal and you take him to the vet, the law might require him to be immediately euthanized if his rabies vaccines are expired.
In an instant, your sweet family member is taken from you.
The only alternative you might have will be to keep your dog in strict isolation for six month’s under a vet’s close watch that ends with a rabies shot one month before he’s released.
They may sound like a better alternative but by this point, you’ll have spent thousands of dollars keeping your dog in solitary confinement that can arguably be crueler than euthanization.
A Sad But True Story
There have been plenty of tragic stories that end in a euthanized dog and torn up families simply because people couldn’t afford to keep their dogs alive.
One dog was recently euthanized when his rabies shot was only ten days overdue – as if the rabies protection would just stop working immediately on the expiry date. Thanks to the tireless research of Dr Ronald Schultz, we already know the duration of immunity of a rabies vaccine is at least five years.
This is absurdly over-cautious … especially in light of the fact that only 1% of domestic animals tested in the US each year are actually positive for rabies.
So of all the dogs who have euthanized or kept in cruel confinement for six months, only 1% of them needed to be!
Even in wild animals, only 6% of the 120,000 tested each year are found to be rabid! And dogs are being killed because they might have been exposed to a rabid animal that really wasn’t.
The Crappier Truth
In a new study by Kansas State University, researchers titer tested the antibody levels in dogs and cats with both expired and current rabies vaccinations, then gave them the rabies boosters again.
What did they find?
Well, after testing them again they found that even if a dog’s rabies vaccinations were expired, they ALL had protective levels of antibodies after the boosters …
… the dogs whose rabies vaccinations were expired had protective levels of antibodies BEFORE the booster shots.
This means your dog is likely protected long after your vet tells you he’s not.
It also means all of those dogs who were given a death sentence didn’t need to die.
How is that fair?
A Ray Of Light
When we learned about this research, we assumed any potential changes to rabies laws would take months or even years to happen.
But, happily, we were wrong … and just two months after this groundbreaking research, we have really good news to report.
The New Rabies Guidelines For Veterinarians
A new announcement from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) unveiled some big changes in the rabies guidelines for veterinarians.
These changes have been made in the newly published 2016 Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control (see Part I, B, Section 5, Postexposure Management).
The Compendium contains recommendations given to veterinarians by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV). The NASPHV develops and publishes national health procedures involving zoonotic diseases like rabies – diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people.
The Compendium is described by the co-head of the Compendium committee as “a series of best practices that jurisdictions can choose to follow.” So vets don’t have to follow them, depending on what local laws say.
In the latest Compendium, dogs and cats exposed to rabies who are overdue for their rabies vaccinations can have a booster shot followed by an observation period, instead of being euthanized or quarantined.
Hurray! That’s better. But wait, there’s more…
The recommended observation period is 45 days and the really good news is that this can be done at home, “under the owner’s control.” So you don’t have to send your dog to solitary confinement for six months.
Things are looking up.
But this change is for pets whose rabies vaccinations have expired …
… the news isn’t so good if your dog has never been vaccinated.
If Your Dog Has Never Had A Rabies Vaccination
There’s some improvement here too, but it’s still bad.
Previously, pets who had never received a rabies vaccination would be either euthanized or vaccinated then quarantined in strict isolation for six months.
Now the quarantine period is still required, but it’s been reduced to four months. Four months is still a really long time, but the changes are headed in the right direction at least.
And there may be an even better alternative. The “attending veterinarian” has the option of asking the local public health authorities about the possibility of “serologic monitoring.”
If you don’t know what that means, check this out:
Serologic monitoring means vets can titer to find out of your dog responded to the rabies vaccination. If the titers show protective levels of antibodies, your dog can be considered to be overdue for booster vaccinated and observed for 45 days. But if the titers are inadequate to prove your dog is protected against rabies, he’ll be considered to have never been vaccinated and must go into the four-month quarantine.
Some cities or states may not agree on this process because again, this is a recommendation to vets, not a change in local laws.
Don’t Lose Your Dog’s Rabies Documentation!
If your dog has been vaccinated for rabies but you don’t have the documentation proving it … if he’s exposed to a rabid animal he’ll probably be treated like a completely unvaccinated dog. So hang on to that paperwork, even long after the vaccinations have officially expired.
Know The Guidelines
These changes are big news for dog owners but your veterinarian may not be up to date with the latest information. As a dog owner, make sure you know these guidelines so you can push for your rights if the worst happens and your dog tangles with a rabid animal.
And Get The Right Vet
It’s really, really important to make sure you have a veterinarian who will help you with the least punitive outcome for your dog. Remember your vet is not obliged to follow these guidelines!
The best time to look for a sympathetic veterinarian is not after your dog has been bitten by a rabid skunk! Do your homework and ask your vet today what he would do in this worst case scenario.
Knowing your rights and finding the right veterinarian to work with can be the difference between life and death for your dog.