What you don’t know about rabies law can be a matter of life and death for your pet
Andrews McMeel Syndication
You probably know that your dog is required by law to have a rabies vaccination either annually or triennially (every three years). Most states allow owners to decide how often to give the vaccine. But there’s more to rabies-related law than frequency of vaccination. Here’s what you -- and your veterinarian -- should know.
Most of us assume that our pets are considered vaccinated for rabies once that needle enters the body. Not so. Pets are not considered “currently vaccinated” until 28 days after the initial injection, says Richard Ford, DVM, an internal medicine specialist and immunology expert who spoke at last month’s American Veterinary Medical Association conference in Indianapolis.
Your pet is considered overdue for a booster vaccine one day beyond the one-year or three-year date following the initial vaccination. By law, a pet is not considered immunized beyond that date, even though generally the only difference between a one-year and a three-year rabies vaccine is what it says on the label. In other words, even though a one-year vaccine generally offers the same protection as a three-year vaccine, in law there is no tolerance. Once your pet is revaccinated, though, he returns immediately to “currently vaccinated” status, regardless of the amount of time that has elapsed since the vaccine was due.
Are cats required to have rabies vaccinations? At least nine states do not mandate rabies vaccinations for cats. In fact, Missouri, Kansas and Ohio have no state laws mandating rabies vaccinations for any pets. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to have it done, especially if you allow your pet to go outdoors. In 2015, 244 cases of rabies involving cats were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s 58 percent of all reported cases involving domestic animals that year.
If your pet is currently unvaccinated and bites or scratches someone -- the usual routes of exposure -- it’s not an automatic death sentence for your pet. It’s sometimes assumed that euthanasia followed by testing of the brain for rabies is required, but that’s not so. Whether a pet is currently vaccinated, the law in the majority of states calls for a 10-day quarantine in the owner’s home, followed by revaccination of the pet.
Pets who have been exposed to rabies -- and the definition of “exposure” varies from state to state -- face a stiffer quarantine of 45 days at home. That’s only if they are considered to be currently vaccinated, however. Pet owners must generally be able to document that the rabies vaccination is current.
An unvaccinated pet who is exposed is generally subject to a four-month strict quarantine at a facility for that purpose. That can cost several thousand dollars. The pet must be vaccinated at the time of entry and sometimes within 96 hours of exposure.
Pets who are not up to date on their rabies vaccinations and bite someone may, however, face euthanasia if the person who was bitten isn’t willing to wait for the animal to complete the 10-day home quarantine. Dr. Ford cited the case of a dog who was two months late for a rabies booster vaccine. The dog bit the child next door, and the parent insisted that the dog be euthanized and tested immediately. The public health department concurred, and the dog lost his life. Examination of brain tissue determined that he was not infected with rabies.
Some pet owners would like to skip rabies vaccinations for animals who are old or have illnesses that could put them at greater risk of a vaccine reaction. They wonder if a rabies titer test can be used to establish immunity.
The answer is no. In law, a rabies titer is not recognized as a valid index of protection. Only 16 states allow veterinarians to exempt pets from rabies vaccinations for health reasons.
More information on rabies requirements is available at rabiesaware.org.
Can an old cat
learn new tricks?
Q: Can an older cat be taught the sit and come commands? -- via email
A: Absolutely! With the right motivation, which might be food treats or play with a favorite toy, cats of any age can learn sit, come and much more. Cat expert Janiss Garza taught her cat Binga to walk on a leash at 15 and to do a high-five at 16.
Sit is a great cue to teach cats so they will sit on the scale at the veterinary clinic or receive petting or treats from a friend. To teach your cat to sit, hold a treat just above his head. As his nose goes up to sniff it, his rear automatically goes down, right into a sit position. The instant he’s in a sit, click and give him the treat. You should also click and treat any time you see your cat sitting, whether you’ve asked him to or not. As you do so, give a name to the action -- “sit” -- and praise him for it -- “Good sit!” Once your cat learns the sit cue, you can use it to reward him for things like sitting at your feet instead of lying across the papers on your desk.
Teaching cats to come is easy-peasy. At every mealtime, as you set down your cat’s food, whistle a particular tune, ring a bell, jingle your keys or make some other noise that’s easy to reproduce. (Don’t use a clicker; your cat should only associate the clicking sound with the promise of a reward for a particular action.) Your cat will quickly learn to associate that sound with mealtime and will respond instantly to it. Always praise and reward your cat for coming, and never call him to come for anything unpleasant. -- Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
AVMA Humane Award
goes to Joan Miller
-- Cat advocate Joan Miller received the American Veterinary Medical Association's 2017 Humane Award last month at the AVMA convention in Indianapolis. Miller is a giant in the cat world, known for her significant contributions to feline well-being through education and outreach. All cats, from pedigreed show cats to free-roaming ferals, have benefited from her efforts over more than 30 years. “Joan is an iconic leader in animal health and welfare who’s been a champion of all cats,” says Jane Brunt, DVM. “Her collaborative and sustained activities in the pedigreed cat community, legislative arenas and Cat Writers Association, coupled with her support of Winn Feline Foundation promoting research to advance feline health and her involvement in the animal shelter community, have made the world a much better place for cats.”
-- Has your pet had a problem related to ingestion or use of a food, drug, product or device? Here’s how to report it. If necessary, first contact your veterinarian so your pet can be properly cared for. For medications or vaccines, your veterinarian can file an adverse event report. For foods, call 888-332-8387 or look online at fda.gov. For EPA-approved flea and tick products or other pesticides, call 800-858-7378. Also report problems with foods, drugs, products or devices to the manufacturer. You can find contact information on the packaging or the company’s website.
-- Designer dogs and mixed breeds have a reputation for being free or relatively free of genetic disease, but that’s not true, says Kari Ekenstedt, DVM, an assistant professor who researches canine genetics at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Nor are purebred dogs automatically less healthy than mutts. Cross-bred and random-bred dogs and cats can have the same genetic disorders as purebreds, and most genetic disorders are caused by ancient genetic mutations that occurred long before breeds were developed. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.