Does My Dog Need a Rabies Vaccine Every Year?

Liz Bales, VMD
By Liz Bales, VMD on Jun. 12, 2019

I am so glad you asked. Why? Because rabies is a viral disease that is almost always fatal once symptoms appear, and proper vaccination is the best and only way to keep you and your dog safe.

There is no test that can be done on a living person or an animal to tell if they are infected, and there is no treatment that can stop the virus once symptoms occur. As soon as you are able to tell if you or your pet is infected with the virus, it is too late.

Not to mention, if your dog is not up to date on her rabies vaccine and she bites, gets bitten or has a wound of unknown origin that could possibly be a bite, the state law may require that your pet be quarantined or even euthanized to keep other pets and people safe.

Keeping your pets current with their rabies vaccines is absolutely essential and even required by law. Here is what you should know about rabies vaccinations.

Recommended Rabies Vaccine Schedule for Your Dog

Each state has its own laws for the required rabies vaccine schedule for dogs.

In most states, the first rabies vaccination is generally given to puppies at or before 16 weeks of age. The second rabies vaccination is given one year after the first vaccine.

Then, your dog will be vaccinated every year or every three years depending on the state law and the vaccine used.

Your veterinarian is your best resource for your state’s rabies vaccination requirements. The AVMA also maintains a list of state rabies laws.

How Long Does a Rabies Vaccine Last?

This is a legal question as well as a medical one. State law determines how long your dog’s vaccination is considered protective, and the law varies from state to state.

There are rabies vaccines that are labeled as being effective for either one year or three years, though the actual contents of the vaccine may be the same. Labeling is a legal matter of testing and proof, and the difference between the two vaccines is the testing done by the manufacturer.

Some states require your pet to be vaccinated against rabies annually, no matter if the vaccine is considered to be effective for one year or three. Your veterinarian will know the legal requirements of your state and will help you to stay on schedule with your pets. 

Why Does My Pet Need Rabies Boosters?

The rabies vaccine tells the body how to recognize the rabies virus and how to create an immune system response that will kill the virus should it ever occur.

Over time, the effectiveness of the vaccine starts to wear off, which is why booster vaccines are required for your dog to stay protected.

Can a Vaccinated Dog Get Rabies?

The rabies vaccine is extremely effective. That said, no vaccine is 100 percent effective, and there are a few reported cases of vaccinated animals contracting the rabies virus.

The best prevention is to keep up to date on your dog’s rabies vaccines over the course of their life.

Are There Any Rabies Vaccine Side Effects?

Common side effects can include mild discomfort or swelling at the vaccination site, a slight fever, and a decreased appetite and activity level. These symptoms can start within hours of the vaccination and should go away in a day or two.

If the side effects worsen or continue longer than a few days, contact your veterinarian so they can help ease them.

Occasionally, the small, firm swelling at the injection site can last for a few weeks. If it persists more than three weeks or seems to be getting larger, you should contact your veterinarian.

Less common, but more serious, side effects to be aware of include:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea

  • Hives

  • Swelling of the muzzle and around the face, neck or eyes

  • Severe coughing or difficulty breathing, and even collapse 

These serious side effects usually occur minutes to hours after receiving the vaccine. They may be life-threatening emergencies that require immediate emergency veterinary care.

How Much Does a Dog Rabies Vaccine Cost?

The cost of a rabies vaccine will vary depending on your provider. Typically, the vaccine costs between $30 and $50. 

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Related Video: Which Vaccines Does My Dog Need?

Liz Bales, VMD


Liz Bales, VMD


Dr. Liz Bales is a graduate of Middlebury College and The University of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine. She focuses on unique...

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