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Chewy EditorialHealth / Wellness

Rabies Vaccines for Dogs: What You Need to Know

Let’s be clear: The rabies vaccine for dogs can save your dog’s life. If your dog bites another animal or is on the receiving end of a bite, the vaccine can protect them from a dangerous and potentially fatal illness.

Furthermore, in most places, the rabies vaccine for dogs is legally required. Without it, your dog could be quarantined or taken by animal control—and you can be cited.

Rabies is a lethal condition that is caused by a virus. It can infect all warm-blooded mammals, including humans. It is spread by bites, through blood and saliva, or through the mucous membranes. Rabies affects the nervous system and is fatal without treatment.

About 5,000 cases of rabies in animals are reported every year, according to the Center for Disease Control. In the United States, four types of rabies are found in fox, raccoon, skunk and bat populations. All four types are contagious to dogs and are lethal. The good news is that rabies is completely preventable by vaccination.

Does My Dog Need the Rabies Vaccine?

Part of responsible pet ownership is following local rules and regulations and doing what is best for the health of your pet. Making sure your dog is properly vaccinated for rabies is part of that process.

The rabies vaccination for dogs is the only core vaccine required in most (but not all) states. If you are not sure if your city, state, or county requires rabies vaccination for dogs, contact your local veterinarian for recommendations.

 Read more about core dog vaccinations.

Dog Rabies Vaccine Schedule

How often do dogs need rabies shots? While state and local requirements vary, the standard recommendations, according to the American Animal Hospital Association, are an administration of a single dose of killed rabies vaccine via injection under the skin or into the muscle to dogs no younger than 3 months of age.

In general, when puppies go in for their 16-week check-up, they receive their first rabies vaccine. A second single dose of rabies vaccine is administered one year later regardless of the age of the dog, and then every three years thereafter.

This vaccination schedule is designed to maintain adequate immunity to rabies virus in case the dog is ever exposed. According to tests run by the manufacturer, antibodies against the rabies virus in your dog’s body created by the vaccine start to decrease after three years.

Dog Rabies Vaccine Cost

Fortunately, rabies vaccinations are easy to obtain, relatively inexpensive and safe for your dog. Because rabies is a human health concern, a rabies vaccine must be administered by a veterinarian after she or he has done a physical exam on your dog. The cost of a veterinary exam usually runs from $40 to $70, depending on your geographical area. The cost of a rabies vaccine can run between $15 to $40, depending on where you live.

For cost-conscious pet parents, the price of a rabies vaccine can be reduced in several ways. There are many options available to get a low-cost rabies vaccine for dogs, including:

  • Low-cost vaccine clinic at a pet store or feed store
  • Low-cost vaccine clinic at a shelter
  • Mobile/Pop-up vaccine clinics

To find one of these clinics, Google “low-cost vaccine clinics” for your area or ask at your local pet store.

You can also ask your veterinary office if they run rabies vaccine specials, like on September 28, World Rabies Day. Other options include puppy packages that bundle and discount all puppy services (vaccines, deworming, fecal exam, puppy exams, spay/neuter, microchip, etc.), or wellness plans that include vaccines.

Rabies Vaccine Side Effects

The rabies vaccine for dogs has been around a long time and has a very low rate of side effects.

However, some dogs, especially Chihuahuas, can temporarily lose their hair over the vaccine site. Dogs can also experience soreness after their injection, or develop localized swelling where the injection was given. In these cases, call your veterinarian, or take your dog back to the veterinarian for treatment. If you notice anything abnormal with your dog after he or she is vaccinated for rabies, contact your veterinarian.

Hopefully, you will never be in a circumstance in which your dog is exposed to rabies. But it pays to be prepared. And in the meantime, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your dog is protected by the rabies vaccine for dogs.

By: Dr. Sarah Wooten
Dr. Sarah Wooten is a practicing veterinarian, certified veterinary journalist, author, speaker, landlord, tea tavern owner, mom and warrior goddess. When it is time to play, she can be found either skiing in Colorado, diving a coral reef, or triathlon training with Team LC.

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