As with many things in our society, medical treatments and techniques become scrutinized at some point. We are in a period when vaccines and vaccination requirements are highly questioned. With the awareness of potential vaccine reactions, it is no surprise that pet owners are wanting to reduce the number of vaccinations an animal receives to help minimize potential reactions.
One of the most highly questioned vaccines is the rabies vaccine. While reports of rabies disease have decreased immensely over the years, it is still a threat. In 2020, there were 25 known cases of bats positive for rabies in Wisconsin alone according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Having pets vaccinated nearly eliminates the chance that they will become actively infected with rabies and helps decrease disease exposure to humans. Active infections are a death sentence for animals and require severe medical intervention for humans.
As veterinarians, we understand owner concerns regarding vaccine reactions, and we are also restricted by laws. The rabies vaccination is required for all dogs by Wisconsin state statute 95.21(2)(a). Rabies vaccination is also recommended for cats by the AVMA and National Association of State and Public Health Veterinarians. Both cats and dogs are held to quarantine restrictions in the event that they are presumed to be exposed to rabies or if they bite someone. These restrictions are less if the animal is in compliance with vaccine laws and recommendations.
Since there is a standard for care that includes rabies vaccination, if a veterinarian is not voicing this to clients and encouraging them to have their pets vaccinated it puts them in a position where their license is on the line. Above this, there is the safety of the veterinary staff and comfort of pets to consider. While many pets are friendly and tolerant of veterinary care, there is always a risk that an animal might become reactive and bite a staff member. In this situation, a pet that is not current on their rabies vaccination will have to undergo more strict quarantine requirements, and the staff member may be treated as if the animal is contagious meaning more intensive medical care.
Since veterinarians are inclined to enforce rabies vaccine requirements, here are some ways that veterinarians can help minimize potential vaccine reactions in pets:
- Do not give vaccinations to animals that are ill; even something as mild as nasal discharge or an unaccessed cough.
- Space out vaccines by a minimum of 2 weeks and only give 1 or 2 per visit. Most clinics allow for patients to return in 2-4 weeks without the need for an additional exam by the veterinarian; thereby, preventing an increase to your out of pocket costs.
- Minimize the number of compounds in a single vaccination. Compound vaccines were initially a way to reduce the number of vaccines needed, but they have a higher association with reactions. Distemper combination vaccines have become standard; combinations with 5 or more viruses are more commonly associated with reactions.
- Use vaccines that are adjuvant free or have a safer adjuvant type. Rabies vaccines that are thimerosal free have had fewer reactions than those containing thimerosal.
- For pets that have a history of vaccine reactions, titers for other vaccinations are a way to check for immune status and potentially reduce the need for those vaccines. When vaccines prove necessary, such as the rabies vaccination, veterinarians can provide antihistamines to minimize risk of reaction. Another option is to have the pet monitored in the clinic so immediate intervention by the veterinary staff can happen if a reaction occurs.
While there is a titer available for rabies, having a positive titer does not equate to immunity according to the state laws. Pets that are not current with the vaccination, even if they have a positive titer and a medical waiver for rabies, are subject to more strict quarantine restrictions. For a complete simplified version of Wisconsin state statues regarding rabies visit https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/rabies/algorithm/quarantinefactshandout.htm