Rabies Vaccination in Dogs and Cats, Part 2

Part 1 of “Rabies Vaccination in Dogs and Cats” described the symptoms, legal requirements and part of the history of rabies vaccines. Part 2 lays out conditions in which pets may be exempted from the shots and the arguable results of immunity testing.


 Photo by Kozorog.

On occasion, a pet may be exempted from rabies vaccination as long as there is appropriate documentation from a California licensed veterinarian. This includes animals that have had a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction after receiving a rabies vaccine. These animals go into shock and need emergency veterinary care. This is very rare. The occasional pet that gets facial swelling and hives is not in a life-threatening situation and is not exempt from state rabies requirements.

Dogs with a serious autoimmune disease, such as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA), may be exempted if the onset of disease was within one month of a rabies vaccination or if the dog has had relapsing disease (more than one episode of IMHA). Dogs on immunosuppressive drug therapy, such as for treating cancer or an immune-mediated disease, may also qualify for exemption. Low-dose prednisone, commonly used for managing skin and food allergies, is not considered immunosuppressive drug therapy.

Old age, minor (non-life-threatening) reactions to rabies vaccines or other vaccines, positive rabies titers, severe vaccine reactions to anything other than rabies, or undocumented medical conditions are not approved for exemption.

A titer test measures the levels of antibodies against a particular disease in an organism and can be used to determine a need for vaccination. This particular test is called the FAVN (fluorescent antibody virus neutralization) test, and it can be performed at a special laboratory at Kansas State University to determine whether your pet has sufficient antibodies to protect it against rabies at the point in time. This documentation is needed for the interstate transportation of animals in some countries that are free of rabies.

Does a positive rabies titer mean the pet has immunity? Most likely, yes. The body has responded to vaccination by producing the appropriate antibodies. What the titer doesn’t tell us is how long the immunity will last. There are several different cell types of the immune response, and rabies titers don’t test them all. A dog with a positive rabies titer is still required by law to be vaccinated.

What happens if your pet bites someone and you can’t produce any proof of rabies vaccination? According to California Civil Code 3342, you as the dog owner are liable any time it bites someone, with the exception of a provoked bite. The dog owner is required to provide the victim with proof of the dog’s vaccination status within 48 hours of a biting incident. If you can’t provide proof, the dog may be impounded for quarantine and even possibly euthanized for diagnostics, depending on the circumstances.

For additional information on rabies please visit our website here.


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Kate Karp is the Pets Columnist for the Long Beach Post covering the world of animal activism, pet adoptions and lots of cute cats. She’s called Long Beach home since 1994 and has written for the Post for about 10 years. Kate’s day job is as a copyeditor, which she discovered a love for during her 30-year tenure as a teacher. She describes the job as “like taking the rough edges off a beautiful sculpture.”