The havoc rabies vaccine wreaks on the immune system of healthy dogs and cats puts it in a league of its own.Ultimately, its severity is amplified with repeat vaccinations which are compulsory in every U.S. state as well as the U.K. These laws are grossly wrong-headed and out of step with what we know about rabies vaccine, its potential for deadly effects and its true duration of immunity.
Let's look at it.
There is no medical necessity for redundant rabies shots.
According to a landmark report on dogs and cat vaccines published in 2002 by the AVMA Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents (COBTA), there is no scientific basis for annual revaccination. Re-administering rabies vaccine does not enhance disease resistance and may expose animals to unnecessary risks.
A redundant rabies shot does not boost immunity. It does not increase memory cells.
In a patient that has been previously immunized, antibodies from the previous vaccine will block the replication of the new vaccinal virus. Antibody titers are not significantly boosted. Memory cell populations are not expanded. The immune status of the patient is not enhanced. After the second rabies vaccination, re-administration of rabies vaccine does not enhance the immune status of the patient at one or two year intervals. (Tizard Ian, Yawei N, Use of serologic testing to assess immune status of companion animals, JAVMA, vol 213, No 1, July 1, 1998.)
Duration of immunity is most likely for life. Since 1990, veterinary research studies by challenge and serology demonstrate that a single rabies vaccination administered properly confers immunity for up to seven years, possibly for the life of the dog or cat.
After vaccination, risks of contracting rabies, if exposed, are less than minuscule. In 1992, Michel Aubert, a French research scientist, noted that a dog or cat that has been vaccinated once against rabies has a less than one in eight million chance of contracting the virus if exposed. By contrast, you have a better than one in 600,000 chance of being struck by lightning if you stand in a thunderstorm. The incidence of feline vaccine-associated sarcoma is 1 in 10,000 jabs.
Redundant vaccination increases the risk of adverse reaction. Perhaps most troubling, rabies vaccine can cause a number of adverse reactions immediately following the shot. These range from fever and lethargy to anaphylaxis and death. What doesn’t sicken or kill our pets outright often robs them (and us) of quality and longevity of life.
Jiggy, (left), developed autoimmune liver disease after a rabies shot. Chiclet (right) has vaccinosis issues, too.
Neptune, a champion standard poodle, was just a year old when his second rabies "booster" triggered immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) a diseases in which the body's own immune system attacks and destroys its red blood cells (IMHA,) A higher incidence of IMHA is seen in dogs within a month of vaccination.
Shadow, was six years old when she was diagnosed with feline vaccine-associates sarcoma. She underwent amputation, radiation treatments and chemotherapy, dying within a year from the cancer that metastasized in her lungs.
Veterinarians have known since the 1990's that ten out of 10,000 cats develop a malignant injection-site tumor subsequent to scruff shots with adjuvant vaccines including rabies. Morbidity is always the prognosis. VAS metastisizes like an octopus with many tentacles reaching out from the primary tumor. Complete surgical removal is practically impossible.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and Association of American Feline Practitioners (AAFP) responded by advising their members to stop giving scruff shots. Administer shots in a leg. It's easier to amputate.
This is the most cynical of responses. It keeps the patient alive for a "fight" that cannot be won.
Dr. Jean Dodds, one of the world's leading pet health care experts discusses the potential for ill effects from rabies vaccine in Changing Vaccine Protocols:
The onset of adverse reactions to conventional vaccinations (or other inciting drugs, chemicals, or infectious agents) can be an immediate hypersensitivity or anaphylactic reaction, or can occur acutely (24-48 hours afterwards), or later on (10-45 days) in a delayed type immune response often caused by immune-complex formation. Typical signs of adverse immune reactions include fever, stiffness, sore joints and abdominal tenderness, susceptibility to infections, central and peripheral nervous system disorders or inflammation, collapse with autoagglutinated red blood cells and jaundice, or generalized pinpoint hemorrhages or bruises. Liver enzymes may be markedly elevated, and liver or kidney failure may accompany bone marrow suppression. Furthermore, recent vaccination of genetically susceptible breeds has been associated with transient seizures in puppies and adult dogs, as well as a variety of autoimmune diseases including those affecting the blood, endocrine organs, joints, skin and mucosa, central nervous system, eyes, muscles, liver, kidneys, and bowel. It is postulated that an underlying genetic predisposition to these conditions places other littermates and close relatives at increased risk. Vaccination of pet and research dogs with polyvalent vaccines containing rabies virus or rabies vaccine alone was recently shown to induce production of antithyroglobulin autoantibodies, a provocative and important finding with implications for the subsequent development of hypothyroidism (Scott-Moncrieff et al, 2002).
Vaccination also can overwhelm the immunocompromised or even healthy host that is repeatedly challenged with other environmental stimuli and is genetically predisposed to react adversely upon viral exposure. The recently weaned young puppy or kitten entering a new environment is at greater risk here, as its relatively immature immune system can be temporarily or more permanently harmed. Consequences in later life may be the increased susceptibility to chronic debilitating diseases.
There is no “booster shot” for rabies. Annual or three-yearly shots are the exact same vaccine, in the exact same dosage as the initial rabies shot. And a seven pound cat receives the same dosage as a 150 pound Great Dane. Potency is not calibrated to consider species, breed, gender, weight, age or any other criteria, leaving smaller dogs to suffer more reactions than mid-sized dogs. Very large dogs may be inadequately protected.
Animal testing is the only difference between the one-year rabies vaccine and the three-year rabies vaccine. (An adjuvant-free one-year vaccine is available for cats.)
The USDA, which regulates animal vaccines, will not accept blood tests (serology) as proof of duration of immunity in dogs and cats. So after the 2003 COBA study implicating over-vaccination in many acute and chronic illnesses, manufacturers ran a three-year test on live animals.
They caged a colony of beagles, vaccinated them with a one-year rabies formula. At the end of three years, when the dogs injected with the virus didn’t develop rabies, the USDA was satisfied that a minimum duration of three years was guaranteed. If the test were longer, the duration of immunity would have been longer as most credible research scientists have proved. Manufacturers would not pursue an extended study because of its expense.
A privately-funded study by The Rabies Challenge Fund is now underway to provide data that supports duration of immunity of a minimum of seven years.
Although she does not encourage you to disobey local rabies laws, Dr. Dodds has said that one rabies vaccination administered after a dog or cat's immune system is mature (after six months) is sufficient for lifetime immunity against rabies if exposed. She also suggests using blood tests, i.e., titers, to determine the need for a repeat vaccination in senior pets.
Titers may reassure owners that your companion animal is well protected. The National Association of Public Health Veterinarians, who write standard guidelines for rabies prevention and control, warns against titer tests as proof of vaccination.
In my opinion, in most cases, the risk to benefit of rabies vaccine is too high. But the decision to vaccinate a mature immune system once and fly below the radar of the law is a tricky one.
Dog and cat owners need a rabies certificate to board, groom, train, compete or show their animals. Rabies shots are required by veterinarians before any hospital procedure, including dental cleaning or spay and neuter surgeries.Airlines and other common transportation carriers also require proof of current vaccination.
If we comply with compulsory rabies laws after the initial series, we must realize that we are not protecting our dog or cat from rabies, but from local animal control. Our dogs and cats will suffer the health consequences, albeit unintended.