When Should I Vaccinate My Puppy for Rabies?

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Rabies is a virus that can affect the brain and spinal cord of dogs as well as all mammals. The disease is passed to dogs through a bite from an animal that's already infected as the virus is secreted through their saliva. It can also be transmitted with a scratch or when infected saliva comes in contact with mucous membranes or an open wound. Dogs that roam around outside and come in contact with wild animals that often carry rabies-- raccoons, bats, foxes and skunks--have the highest risk of getting the disease.

About Rabies

Rabies is a horrible disease for your dog to suffer with and for you to observe. At first, dogs may simply exhibit behavioral changes: Friendly dogs can become irritable; energetic animals may become more docile, and both may exhibit aggression. However, as the disease progresses, the physical symptoms set in--their throat and jaw muscles may become paralyzed, leading to the infamous foaming at the mouth. The back legs may also become paralyzed, leading to staggering and disorientation. Loss of appetite, weakness and seizures follow. There is no diagnosis for rabies as it can only be determined by looking at an infected brain post mortem, nor is there any treatment. Thus, it's imperative for your dog's health (and required, in every state but Hawaii) that you vaccinate your dog.

Rabies Laws by State

Each state makes its own rabies laws that delineate when you should vaccinate your dog for rabies.

Refer to these quick lists for the timing in your state for puppy rabies vaccinations.

These twelve states have three-month laws/regulations: Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania.

These fourteen states have four-month laws/regulations: Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia.

Wisconsin is the only state that has five-month laws/regulations.

Six states have six-month laws/regulations: Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Tennessee, West Virginia.

Another 13 states refer to the Rabies Compendium: Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington State, Wyoming.

Hawaii does not require a rabies shot because they have never had a case of rabies. Since Hawaii is an island, the state can control who enters more so than the contiguous United States.

Kansas leaves it up to the municipalities as does Ohio. However, Ohio requires imported dogs to be vaccinated according to the Rabies Compendium. The Rabies Compendium is a summary or guidelines that serve as a basis for animal rabies prevention and control programs throughout the United States.

Opting Out of Vaccination

Some pet owners choose not to vaccinate their dog because they feel their pet is too old, frail or ill and they fear the vaccine could cause harm them or exacerbate existing health issues. The letter then prevents excluding your pet from air travel, boarding, day care and grooming without the vaccine. However, if your unvaccinated dog does bite someone, the consequences can be dire for the pet--check The Rabies Compendium to understand the ramifications

FAQ provided by Caryl Wolff, a Los Angeles-based dog trainer and dog behavior consultant certified through IAABC, NADOI and CPDT and other canine professional organizations. She can be reached through her www.DoggieManners.com site.