We’ve all heard of rabies and the rabies vaccine. Most of us correlate it with the 1957 American drama, Old Yeller. You remember the tragedy that we all endured when watching the rabid wolf bite the family’s golden retriever mix thus leading to (as if you need reminding) the family’s son having to shoot and kill his furry companion. It was traumatizing, to say the least.
But what exactly is rabies? It can’t be the foaming at the mouth, ready to attack everything in site conception that Hollywood has made it out to be… or can it?
What is Rabies?
The word rabies comes from the Latin word meaning “to rage.” This is because when an animal contracts rabies, they often act violently. As time progresses, the disease causes the animal to experience hypersensitivity to light and sound. Furthermore, the nerves that control the animal’s head and throat become paralyzed. Eventually, respiratory failure occurs and the animal ultimately dies.
Rabies is a virus that affects the brain and spinal cord. It has the ability to affect all mammals including dogs, cats, and even humans.
The virus has been reported in every state except Hawaii and everywhere in the world except for Antarctica. Rabies is known to kill over 50,000 humans and millions of animals worldwide every year. It’s no surprise why rabies has struck such fear in pet owners.
To be honest, this explanation isn’t sounding too far from what we saw in Old Yeller.
How Does a Dog Contract Rabies?
Rabies is spread through saliva. An animal is at high risk whenever in contact with an infected animal. Since the disease is passed through the saliva, it most commonly occurs from a bite wound. However, a scratch or a preexisting wound are additional ways that the virus can be transmitted.
Is My Dog at Risk of Contracting Rabies?
To be fair, if not properly vaccinated, all dogs are at potential risk. However, the risk runs exponentially higher for dogs with exposure to wild animals. In the United States, the most common carriers of the rabies disease are raccoons, bats, foxes, and skunks.
If your dog spends time outside and you’ve ever seen any of those critters running around, your pup is absolutely at risk.
What is the Rabies Vaccine for Dogs?
The rabies vaccine is known as a “core vaccine.” Core vaccines are veterinarian recommended, and in the case of the rabies vaccine, legally mandated.
The rabies vaccine prevents the transmission of the rabies virus. The vaccine itself contains inactivated rabies virus. It provokes the dog’s immune system to attack the inactivated virus by creating antibodies against it.
Essentially, the vaccine trains the body to fight off the virus without actually transmitting the virus.
Because there is not a cure for rabies, prevention is paramount.
The Harmful Truth About the Rabies Vaccine
All things considered, the rabies vaccine is considered to be very safe. However, the truth behind the vaccine is a hard pill to swallow. Statistically, more dogs die from complications from the rabies vaccine than die from contracting the rabies virus itself.
Why are Rabies Shots for Dogs Mandatory?
With this being said, you may wonder how in the world it’s possible that so many veterinarians encourage the vaccine and why it is legally mandated in the majority of places in the United States.
The point of the rabies vaccine is to, in time, make the disease so rare that very few animals have the potential of any rabies exposure.
Many medical professionals bring up the comparison of the polio vaccination in humans. The potentially deadly side effects of the polio vaccine outweigh the number of people diagnosed with the disease itself. However, no one would ever argue to do away with the polio vaccination because it has proved to keep polio out of our lives.
With that being said, vaccination is thought to be an “acceptable risk” to the individual if it means overall protection to the rest of the population.
Therefore, the human and veterinary medical communities both agree that the pros of the rabies vaccination outweigh the cons of the individual risk.
One Year vs Three Year Rabies Vaccine
Another concept that continues to upset holistic veterinarians is the time frame that rabies shots are required.
This upset is due to the fact that the requirements do not take into consideration real duration of vaccine’s immunity. Studies now show that the vaccine protects a minimum of seven years, potentially longer. However, the laws regarding the mandatory one or three-year shots haven’t changed.
Furthermore, we cannot stress enough that with every single vaccine administered, the chance for complication increases.
Pet owners may not realize that really the only difference between the one-year vaccine and the three-year vaccine is the label and the price point.
Many pet owners chose the one-year rabies vaccine because it is cheaper. However, this means that the very next year they will have to subject their dog to another round of toxicity when it is absolutely unnecessary.
Overvaccination is a massive factor when it comes to acute and chronic illnesses. Pet owners should avoid overvaccination at all costs.
Rabies Vaccine Side Effects
At the same time, this isn’t to say that we should ignore the potential harm of the vaccine just because it’s best for the majority of the population. While the fact regarding the wellness of the community may be true, your beloved dog is still at risk. It’s important for pet owners to know how to recognize these potential risks and how to appropriately proceed.
It should be noted that all vaccines come with risks. Therefore, we have broken down the side effects into two categories: Acute Side Effects and Chronic Side Effects.
Acute Side Effects of the Rabies Vaccine
Acute reactions happen either immediately or within a few days after the rabies vaccine being administered.
The following side effects are not only reactions from the rabies vaccine but many other vaccines as well.
- Swelling of the face
- Swelling of the injection site
- Circulatory shock
- Pain at the injection site
- Hair loss at the injection site
- Loss of consciousness
- Anaphylaxis (a reaction that can kill a dog within minutes)
- General body pain
- Ataxia (loss of coordination)
- Muscle tremors
- Seizures (which can happen immediately or within 7-9 days after receiving the vaccination)
- Tumor at the injection site (can develop within 72 hours)
- Behavior changes such as aggression or anxiety
- Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA)
Chronic Side Effects of the Rabies Vaccine
There are a number of chronic diseases that can be directly linked to the rabies vaccine. This is due to the vaccine’s damaging effect on the dog’s immune system and neurological system.
- Cancers including spindle cell cancers, osteosarcoma, mast cell cancers, hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Chronic diarrhea
- Chronic inflammation throughout the body can be aggravated by the rabies vaccine
- Fibrosarcomas at the injection site
- Seizures, epilepsy and granulomatous meningoencephalitis (GME)
- Food, inhalant, and environmental allergies along with other allergic reactions
- Skin issues including chronic dermatitis, hives, itchy skin, alopecia, skin abscesses
- Ear infections
- Eye infections
- Anal gland issues
- Chronic muscle weakness
- Degenerative Myelopathy
- Degeneration of the tissues
- Demyelination (an autoimmune disease)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Autoimmune thyroiditis
- Metabolic diseases such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease and pancreatitis
What is Rabies Miasm?
Rabies Miasm is a chronic condition in which the vaccination causes the dog to mimic the symptoms of the disease it was supposed to prevent.
Miasm is a word that homeopaths use to describe the condition. While it is often seen as a deep-rooted vaccination effect, it can also be passed down through generations.
Many of the issues associated with miasm are behavioral due to the neurological damage that the rabies vaccine causes.
In many cases, miasm is manifested in acute flare-ups of aggression and anxiety. You may notice your dog has a new tendency to run away or wander off. They may also have excessive saliva or begin to tear things up in the house.
Your dog doesn’t have rabies but is showing symptoms due to the exposure to the disease from the vaccine.
Rabies Miasm Symptoms
The following list is the signs of rabies miasm.
- Hypersensitivity of all senses
- Rage, sudden attacks, and unprovoked attacks
- Anxiety, timidity, irrational fears
- Extreme fear of water
- Unexplained extreme excitement towards water
- Obsessive or compulsive behaviors, i.e. tail chasing, biting at flies
- Redundant focal licking
- Excessive sexual drives
- Sensitivity to tight surroundings, i.e. collars or clothing
- Sensitivity to noise
- Spasmodic sneezing
- Spasms of the jaw
- Choking or coughing when swallowing water
- Involuntary urination
- Excessive licking of genitalia
- Violent itching without a known cause
- Aimless wandering
With these reasons in mind, homeopaths are able to link the rabies vaccine to the symptoms of rabies directly.
Vaccines and Aggression in Dogs
We know that homeopaths directly link rabies miasm with the rabies vaccine, but what does science suggest?
As far as scientific research is concerned, there is also evidence present that shows the rabies vaccine causing symptoms that resembles the virus itself.
The rabies vaccine has two components:
- The actual virus – this is for the body to create an immune response to
- An immune adjuvant – meant to enhance the immune system
Studies now show that the adjuvants from a single vaccine will last for as long as two years thus causing the over-activation of the immune system for that period of time.
This means the toxicity of the vaccine will also continue to be released for as long as two years as well. This can prove to be incredibly destructive.
In fact, the over-activation can cause the brain to become immensely inflamed and even bleed.
This destruction of the brain can lead to the symptoms that we discussed regarding rabies miasm.
How is Rabies Diagnosed in Dogs?
Unfortunately, there is not an accurate diagnosis of rabies in animals that are still alive. The main way to diagnose is through a method called the direct fluorescent antibody test. However, this requires brain tissue from the animal and can only be done after the animal dies.
Is There a Cure for Rabies in Dogs?
No. There is not a cure nor treatment for rabies disease. Because of the fact that rabies is a massive public safety issue, if a dog begins to show signs of the disease, they are most often euthanized. This is yet another reason why the prevention of rabies disease is so important.
What Can You Do?
You receive an email from your veterinarian’s office alerting you that the time has come once again to bring Fido in for the yearly, mandatory rabies vaccination. Although you now know the potential lifelong risks and adverse reactions, the shot is legally mandated. So, what can you do?
We are so glad you asked.
1. Recognize Adverse Reactions
Perhaps the most important thing that pet owners can do is educate themselves on the adverse reactions of the rabies vaccine.
As a reminder, acute symptoms can occur within moments of receiving the vaccination or up to two weeks after. Pet owners should stay alert, and if any symptoms become present, dogs should be taken to the veterinarian right away.
2. Rabies Vaccination Exception
Pet owners can ask their veterinarian to apply for a rabies vaccination exception if their dog has documented health issues.
Even if the state law doesn’t allow them, many localities do.
A holistic veterinarian will be able to provide more information on the dangers of vaccinating a sick dog and help with securing the exception.
3. Only Vaccinate Healthy Dogs
Vaccinating a sick dog can do a world of damage.
Furthermore, vaccinating a sick dog may not even result in immunity due to their weakened immune system. This is particularly dangerous if the pet owner feels that their pet is immune to rabies and allows it to frolic in nature appropriately but in fact, the dog is not immune.
4. One Vaccine at a Time
Pet owners should be strongly advised against vaccinating for rabies within three weeks of administering other vaccinations. When multiple vaccines are given in a single visit, it greatly increases the risk of a harmful, often irreversible, reaction.
5. Ensure the Correct Vaccine is Administered
When vaccinating a puppy, pet owners should make sure it’s done as late as legally possible and that the one-year shot is administered. After the first year, pet owners should vaccine with the three-year rabies vaccine.
The one-year vaccine and the three-year vaccine are virtually identical. Although more expensive at the time, vaccinating with the three-year rabies vaccine will decrease the overall amount of vaccinations that your dog receives in its lifetime as well as decrease the overall potential for adverse reactions.
6. Time, Place, Environment
Pet owners should vaccinate early in the day and as early on in the week as possible. Additionally, waiting at the clinic for at least an hour is advised. Adverse reactions generally occur within the first 48 hours. It is important to be as prepared as possible if a side effect occurs.
Also, pet owners should make sure they are not traveling within one week of vaccinating their dog. Again, this is to ensure that if any adverse reaction occurs, the pet owner can take appropriate action to make sure it doesn’t get worse.
7. Thimerosal-Free Vaccines
Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative. It is linked to many adverse reactions.
Pet owners should make sure their dog is being vaccinated with thimerosal-free vaccines. Look for “TF” on the label. Brands such as Merial make a one-year and three-year thimerosal-free vaccine.
8. Homeopathic Remedies
There are homeopathic remedies that be given before, during, and after vaccinating. These remedies can help alleviate stress and detoxify the body which can be incredibly beneficial.
9. Make Sure All Vaccines Are on Record
Keeping track of your dog’s records is key in ensuring they aren’t at risk for overvaccination.
Furthermore, keep copies of all your pet’s records in your car and up to date on their tags. If your dog bites someone, goes missing and is taken to a shelter, or if you have to board without notice, and their records aren’t readily available, you’ll be forced to re-vaccinate. As we’ve discussed, overvaccination can cause a slew of issues.
10. Do Not Administer the Vaccine Yourself
We hope this goes without saying, but do not try to administer the vaccine by yourself. It will not meet the legal requirements and you’ll have to revaccinate. Furthermore, the adverse reactions of a rabies vaccine administered improperly can be irreversible and deadly.
Support the Rabies Challenge Fund
W Jean Dodds DVM and Ronald D Schultz PhD are world-renowned scientists who are working as volunteers in order to prove just how long the rabies vaccine lasts.
Let that sink in for a minute. These individuals are working overtime for virtually nothing in order to prove how unnecessary it is to vaccinate against rabies once a year. The non-profit solely exists from support and donations from pet lovers. Learn more about the cause here!
Rabies Vaccine Cost
On average, the rabies vaccine costs $15-$25 per dose. This number may increase in larger cities. For the three-year rabies vaccine, pet owners may be charged up to $75. Again, while it’s a chunk of change up front, it is entirely worth it.
Low Cost Pet Vaccinations at Walgreens
Companies like Walgreens offer low-cost pet vaccines.
In these cases, a mobile vaccine company schedules visits and pet owners can pay just for the vaccine. Most of the time, veterinarians will require a full exam before administering the vaccines, thus costing the pet owner an additional fee.
While this mobile vet clinic may be ideal for some pet owners due to the monetary aspect (we get it, those numbers get high, quickly), we need to remind you that in these cases, if an adverse reaction were to occur, your dog may find itself in a world of trouble.
If you’re able, receiving the vaccination at your veterinarian’s office will ensure that if anything were to go wrong, it would be dealt with immediately and appropriately.
Commonly Asked Questions Regarding Rabies
Before wrapping up, we want to briefly cover some frequently asked questions regarding rabies.
What About Human Rabies?
Although rare, human rabies does exist. Studies show that the rate to which humans are exposed to rabies via a dog or cat that has the disease is as rare as a shark attack.
The rabies law was initially put into place because many years ago, researchers discovered that if a large number of pets were vaccinated against the disease, the number of humans exposed to rabies decreased exponentially.
What is the Rabies Vaccine for Humans?
As a preventative measure, humans who are at a higher risk of contracting the disease should receive the vaccine.
These individuals include:
- Animal handlers
- Rabies laboratory workers
- Rabies biologics production workers
People whose jobs or activities bring them close to potentially rabid animals, as well as international travelers who could possibly find themselves in particular environments where rabid animals live, should also receive the vaccine.
A medical professional will administer the vaccine in the following sequence:
First dose: As appropriate
Second dose: 7 days after Dose 1
Third dose: 21 days or 28 days after Dose 1
Is There a Cure for a Human with Rabies?
If an individual comes into contact with a rabid animal they should get to the closest hospital immediately. Time is crucial in this matter.
A fast-acting shot, called rabies immune globulin, will be administered followed by a series of shots.
Even in humans, once the disease infects the body, it is usually fatal. Taking the necessary precautions prove to be the difference between life and death.
A Closing Thought on the Rabies Vaccine
Rabies is not a topic that pet owners take lightly, and rightfully so. Anytime that there isn’t a cure for something, it is imperative to take it incredibly seriously. Thankfully, rabies prevention exists.
While every vaccine has its share of adverse side effects, you can protect your beloved animals and make sure that they are safe when unpredictable circumstances occur by educating yourself and always having a plan!
We can only hope that science progresses and soon recognizes that the rabies vaccine isn’t necessary every three years. However, until that happens, it’s important to do everything in our immediate power to ensure that our dogs are living the healthiest life possible.