Risk and Rabies

Vaccinations save lives — no question. A willingness to vaccinate also reflects regard for both the greater good and the welfare of others, be it canines or humans. Further, vaccinations are extremely safe. And yet they still make some of us nervous…

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It is interesting to consider how we assess risk with our dogs.

Cars are a much greater risk to dogs than a vaccine — ask any veterinarian. Loose dogs get injured and killed by cars with heart-breaking regularity. Further, most people do not safely restrain dogs in vehicles, leaving them at significant risk of injury and death in the event of an accident.

I wonder why people are willing to assume a much more likely risk such as trauma in a car-related event than the very remote possibility of an adverse reaction from a vaccination that has the potential to save lives?!

Humans (including me) are not always rational.

All that said, it is appropriate to evaluate the burden of any medical intervention as well as the benefit; vaccinations are not without risk. However, it is annoyingly difficult to accurately assess the potential risk of vaccinations.

Armed with misinformation and conspiracy theories, some generate near hysteria about vaccinations. Others scoff at the concerns — but also derive a good amount of income from making, selling, and/or administering vaccinations. The holistic veterinarians are also creating a good revenue stream from our concerns about vaccinations — can we fully trust their information?

Evaluating the conflicting positions and information is a challenge. The scary stuff on the internet triggers our fears. The smugness about vaccine safety brings out our distrust of “The Establishment.” The holistic veterinarians seem like the safe, fun hippy lady we all knew and loved as kids — but how much of their belief system exists simply in opposition to traditional veterinary medicine? Offering alternatives to traditional practice is all well and good BUT I am not sure anti-establishment is an evidence-based intervention.

What crappy options. We can go along with Chicken Little and avoid vaccinations completely since they cause all manner of worldly evils, including Climate Change and the proliferation of fast food restaurants. Or we can just do what we are told by the “experts” — who also cannot really decide what they think, by the way, and therefore the expert opinion that guides our choices will be the one that is closest to us.

Rabies. That is a really bad — albeit rare — disease. In the USA, dogs are required to be protected against rabies — in other words, they must be vaccinated.

However, the schedule mandated for rabies vaccinations is considered by some to be excessive, thereby placing unnecessary vaccination burden on dogs.

A conundrum.

I want my dogs protected against rabies and not only because it is the law, but also because we live where rabies has been found.

But I only want to vaccinate when necessary. If a dog is already protected from a disease, why should she receive an unnecessary vaccination? That makes no sense to me.

Therefore, although typically law-abiding, I am an Informed Conscientious Objector when it comes to vaccinating for a disease to which my dog has immunity.

What does that mean?

Recently my veterinarian drew blood from Sparkle, Daisy, and Claire and sent it off to the lab that does rabies titer testing. A titer test is a way to assess immunity, and it is a safer alternative to routine vaccination.


Daisy and Claire both have results at the top of the protective range; this means each is already protected against rabies and therefore a vaccination is unnecessary.

Sparkle is just barely over the protective level. We could re-test in six months BUT since she will be bred in the Spring, she will receive the rabies vaccination now. This timing is safely in advance of the breeding, and will ensure that she has adequate immunity to pass along to her puppies.

Time since Sparkle’s first and only rabies vaccination is approximately 4.5 years. Daisy has an excellent level of immunity 2.5 years post-vaccination; Claire does as well but is just one year post-vaccination so not unexpected.

But Rabies titers are not without a bit of controversy — let’s explore that next week...