Rabies Vaccination Caution: A Veterinarian Speaks Out

I, Jan Rasmussen, recently posted Rabies Vaccination: 13 Ways to Vaccinate More Safely.  Adverse reactions to rabies vaccines are the most common reactions reported to the USDA’s Center for Veterinary Biologics.  Some reactions are mild — but others can prove deadly. A little knowledge can help you prevent many of them. 

After reading my article, Patricia Jordan, veterinarian, vaccination expert and author of Mark of the Beast, sent me some additional cautions to pass along (condensed with her permission).  Please read my first article in addition to this one. 


Here are Dr. Jordan’s tips augmented with a few thoughts from me:


  1. Get the vaccine name, serial number, lot number and expiration date. Vets move away, retire and lose records — and vaccines are recalled. You’ll be prepared in case an adverse reaction shows up (which could be as long as 10 years later as in the case of mast cell tumors). Even if your dog or cat has an immediate reaction, you’ll want to file a report with the manufacturer yourself.  (Sometimes medical expenses will be reimbursed by the manufacturer, but too few vets take the time to report the reaction.)


  1. Ask your vet to explain possible adverse reactions, both long and short term, both mild and serious, before vaccination. Insist that both you and the vet sign a note stating the possible reactions in your pet’s file, or a letter of informed consent and full disclosure, stating that this was done. Keep a copy. Refer to it if your pet becomes ill.


  1. Note exactly where on your pet’s body the shot was administered, and by what route, IM (intramuscular) or SQ (subcutaneous). Generally, the rabies vaccine should be given in the pet’s right hind leg. Cats should always be vaccinated low on the leg or on the tail so that if a tumor develops, the leg or tail can be amputated. Yes, really. Make sure the vet notes the full name of the person who gave the shot, and the injection site, in your pet’s file. If a lump forms, you’ll want to see if it’s at the injection site.


  1. Vaccinate against rabies at the oldest possible age. Renowned pet vaccination scientist Ron Schultz, PhD has recommended 20 weeks of age. Check with your state’s rabies law for details.


  1. Never vaccinate your pet (with any vaccine) while the animal is under anesthesia, taking steroids, undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, or is otherwise immuno-suppressed.

Way too many vets vaccinate, often without permission, when pets are being spayed or neutered or undergoing a dental procedure.  One serious short-term risk of vaccination under anesthesia is vomiting and inhaling the vomit into the lung.  Dr. Jordan says one serious long-term reaction is Granulomatour Meningoencepthalitis (GME). Unfortunately, few vets (or pet guardians) trace the GME to a vaccination of the animal suppressed via anesthesia  3-4 months earlier. 

Vaccinating an animal whose immune system is suppressed may well prevent the body from developing antibodies against rabies thereby defeating the whole purpose of vaccination!


  1. Learn the duration of immunity of any vaccine for dogs or cats before vaccinating. This link leads to an abstract from Dr. Schultz (see page 3) showing that vaccines last much longer than you think and shouldn’t be administered unnecessarily. Here’s the gist of it:

Minimum Duration of Immunity  (DOI)

(the minimum length of time that a  vaccine has proven in studies to give immunity)


RABIES VACCINE: the DOI is 3 years by challenge (exposure to the disease), 7 years by serology (blood titer test). Note: manufacturers guarantee the “one year vaccine” for one year and the “three year vaccine” for three years, although the vaccines are considered virtually identical.


CORE VACCINES, the most important vaccines that veterinary organizations recommend all puppies get, include Canine Distemper Virus, Canine Adenovirus-2 and Canine Parvovirus-2. The DOI of these vaccines, when given as “modified live virus” vaccines, is 9 years or more as proven by challenge and by serology. Note: in North America, many experts do not vaccinate with CAV-2 because disease incidence is rare to non-existent and it can be immunosuppressive.

NON-CORE VACCINES  (like Leptospirosis and Bordetella): DOI is less than a year. (Many dogs do not require these vaccines. They should be given only when a proven need exists. Lepto is particularly dangerous for small dogs and often is not effective.)


Adverse reactions from vaccines are not limited to 72 hours after vaccination or 3 weeks or even 3 years. Dr. Jordan says we may not see the effects right away because it takes a while for some genetic changes to express themselves.  Much is going on at the microscopic and molecular level — the level of the genome. Damage is cumulative.  So never give your pets unnecessary vaccines!

Please remember to read: Rabies Vaccination: 13 Ways to Vaccinate More Safely

You may also want to read Vaccinating Dogs: 10 Steps to Eliminating Unnecessary Shots

Get Our Vaccination DVD: W. Jean Dodds, DVM and Ronald D. Schultz, PhD spoke at our Safer Pet Vaccination Benefit Seminar in March. A DVD of the event is available and proceeds benefit the Rabies Challenge Fund study of the rabies vaccine. Buy the DVD here.  Or learn more about it here. Learn more about vaccination in general here and here.