Home > Health Care - Dogs, Pet News, Pet Safety > Investigative Report Asks: Are some vets lying about rabies vaccinations?

Investigative Report Asks: Are some vets lying about rabies vaccinations?

I’m confused. I really am.

Recently, I watched a Fox 9 News investigation into how some veterinarians are telling people they need to get their pet re-vaccinated for rabies every two years. This might not sound strange until you realize that there are only two vaccinations available to vets – a one-year and a three-year. There is no two-year vaccine. So why the confusion? Why would vets recommend that people get their dogs vaccinated every two years instead of every three?

You can see the full report here: http://www.myfoxtwincities.com/video/videoplayer.swf?dppversion=10588

Investigators: Vets, Vaccines and Vagaries: MyFoxTWINCITIES.com

I know many veterinarians and have found all of them to be amazing people. They dedicate their lives to loving and caring for our pets. They are there with us in our last moments with our beloved pets. They feel our pain when it’s time to say goodbye, but they experience it on a daily basis. Dr Shawn Finch, DVM, is a great example of an amazing vet. She wrote about the tough part of being a vet over at Life With Dogs. Dr. Lorie Huston is another amazing vet. She spends her time educating folks on a whole variety of pet health issues on a daily basis at her blog The Pet Health Care Gazette. I would gladly lump my vet into the same category as these two amazing women. So, I don’t believe that vets are inherently trying to deceive us.That’s why I am so confused. Why would some vets choose to over-vaccinate a pet? Is it a drug company recommendation? Or, is it something else?

I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t making a mountain out of a molehill, so I went searching for more information on the rabies vaccine. This interview conducted by Dr. Karen Becker with Dr. Ronald Schultz, Professor and Chair, Department of Pathobiological Sciences, School of Veterinary Science at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, is quite interesting. Dr. Schultz explains that there is a lot of confusion about how long the rabies vaccination lasts because no one has ever really done a study to find out how it lasts. Why? Because a study like that is expensive and takes a lot of time. But I also wanted to know what is the difference between the one-year and three-year vaccine? Here is Dr. Schultz’s response.

Well, most of them are the same. They’re the same product, it’s just that when the studies are done, they did a one-year study, and when the product worked, they had a one-year license. They had a group of dogs that they waited two more years for the three years to come up and that same product became a three-year product. Except there may be some that are a
bit different — some actually may have more adjuvant in them if they are a three-year product. There are some differences.

He also said:

Every one of the major veterinary manufacturers of vaccines has done a three-year minimum duration of immunity study with their core vaccines, and they have all demonstrated their products provide a minimum of three-year duration of immunity. That should say something to every veterinarian that’s out there. That’s wondering “Can I really go three years?” for every dog owner that’s out there. The answer is yes.

Here is the full interview:

So if the vaccine really is good for three years, is it just a lack of knowledge about the latest research? Is it a matter of being over-cautious?

Last year, I had Daisy and Jasper vaccinated at a vaccination clinic held at a local rescue organizations’ headquarters. I never bothered to look at the official paperwork until now. Guess what? The paperwork doesn’t even mention a three-year vaccine. It only has spots for a one-year and two-year vaccination. So what gives? What is this all about? Can anyone tell me why some vets are telling people to vaccinate their pets every two years when it’s not needed?

Update: Many thanks to Dr. Lorie Huston for taking on this topic in her blog post, How Often Does Your Pet Need to Vaccinated for Rabies? It answers a lot of my questions and maybe yours as well.

Additional Info:
Rabies Vaccination Laws by State
Rabid Cats and Dogs Reported in the United States during 2009
Rabid Dogs Reported in the United States during 2009
STATE Rabies Laws

  1. Jan
    July 30, 2011 at 8:54 PM

    Some veterinarians continue to recommend yearly boosters for all pets and year round heartworm medicine even in frigid climates. hmmm.

    • Mel
      July 30, 2011 at 9:29 PM


    • July 31, 2011 at 1:19 AM

      Although I live in the snowbelt, I do year round heartworm for Honey. I’ve seen maps showing increasing incidence of heart worm in northern climates. But some heartworm meds also protect against other worms as well.

      It was recommended by my regular vet, whom I trust, and confirmed as unlikely to be harmful by the naturopathic vet I’ve consulted with.

      Heartworm is such a deadly (literally) serious threat that many vets feel it’s better to be safe than sorry.

      • Mel
        July 31, 2011 at 11:27 AM

        Thanks for sharing that info Pamela. Jasper actually gets the pill that has a heartworm preventative combined with ones that kill other worms. Daisy has the regular heartworm preventative, which I choose not to give in winter. I agree. Heartworm is such a deadly threat and one I take seriously, but I don’t see many mosquitoes here in MN in the middle of winter. 🙂

  2. July 30, 2011 at 10:09 PM

    Wow – thanks, Mel, for the wonderful recommendation. I really appreciate that, especially coming from you because you’re someone I like and respect very much. And you’ve placed me in great such company too…Dr. Shawn is terrific, both as a vet and as a person!

    I can’t speak for all veterinarians but I can speak for those of us here in the state of Rhode Island in regards to 2-year rabies vaccines. Until recently, that was the state law here in Rhode Island. The state did not recognize that the vaccine was “good” for an entire three-year period and mandated vaccines every two years for all dogs, cats and ferrets. When a regulation is mandated by law, we unfortunately have no choice but to follow it, even if it is based on shoddy scientific evidence. Fortunately, (and I’m happy to say it!!), the law was recently changed to mandate vaccination against rabies every three years rather than every two.

    You’re absolutely right…there is no 2 year rabies vaccine and, if a three year rabies vaccine is administered, there is no good medical reason to believe it would not provide adequate protection for an entire three year period of time (or perhaps even longer.)

    Thanks for bringing up this issue, Mel. It is an important one and, as usual, you’ve done a great job covering it.

    • Mel
      July 30, 2011 at 10:41 PM

      Thanks Dr. Lorie. I hold you and Dr. Shawn in very high esteem indeed!

      I so appreciate you clarifying what the news story did not – state and local laws that mandate something without reason. I also appreciate you addressing it on your blog. I had no idea that ridiculous laws were behind this. I could say I am surprised, but I’m not. I’m glad that Rhode Island saw the light and changed their laws. It looks like Minnesota needs to do the same. Thank you so much for clarifying!

  3. July 31, 2011 at 12:50 AM

    Well, with vets it’s like with everything. I recently wrote an article that Vet’s Are People First. Firstly, I’m sure they didn’t all graduate with honors. So the knowledge foundation will vary. Secondly, as humans they are open to misconceptions. Thirdly, everybody bases their professional opinion on their past experiences. And lastly, to err is human.

    Plus they might believe that what they’re doing IS for the benefit of the animals. Dog owners often don’t come in for check-ups enough and they don’t always keep up with the vaccination schedule (the proper one that is).

    Plus politicians stick their noses into things.

    You add all this together and you end up in a confused world, such as we live in.

    • Mel
      July 31, 2011 at 11:34 AM

      Jasmine – I completely agree. I don’t believe vets are doing this for money as was implied in the news piece. And, I think a lot of what you mentioned comes into play as with everything else in life. No wonder we’re all confused!
      I’m including a link to your post too. Nice piece. Thanks for sharing! http://dawgbusiness.blogspot.com/2011/06/veterinarians-are-people-first.html

  4. July 31, 2011 at 1:23 AM

    Really great post, Mel. Thanks for covering this so well.

    When my dog Agatha was fourteen years old, I was hesitant to overvaccinate her. My vet suggested that we could run a titre to check her immunity levels (although it’s not necessarily a perfect test). In addition, she wrote a letter stating that after fourteen years of regular immunizations, Agatha was not a risk for contracting rabies and that giving her this shot would be detrimental to her health.

    The letter was satisfactory for us when we went camping where state parks are usually very strict about wanting to see a rabies certificate.

    I suggest that anyone with questions about this talk to their vet. And, if they don’t feel their concerns are addressed seriously, they can always find another vet.

    • Mel
      July 31, 2011 at 11:31 AM

      I like the idea of running titres. I just wish it wasn’t so darn expensive. I love that your vet wrote a letter you could carry with you when you went camping. A really great idea.
      I think most municipalities and parks just want to know that your dog is vaccinated for safety reasons, but not all respect the titre approach. I’m so glad the letter was enough.

  5. July 31, 2011 at 2:47 AM

    Maybe it has to do with outdated legislation and vets just practice what they are (think they are) told to do. And maybe they are not updated on the change in laws. In Europe you are only allowed to travel across border with your dog updated for his rabies vaccinations. Somewhere done the line the legislation changed from 2 to 3 years, and vets followed this without exception.

    I guess no vet would do it deliberately, yet I think it says something about an individual vet when they don’t update themselves on legislation and best practices.

    • Mel
      July 31, 2011 at 11:25 AM

      Based on Dr. Lorie’s post today, I agree with you Leo. Vets are stuck with an outdated mandate that requires them to give a rabies vaccine at a certain frequency – as mandated by state and local governments.
      I didn’t think a vet would do it deliberately for money (as was implied in the investigative report), but I think we need to educate our politicians on what should be the law based on medical science.

  6. July 31, 2011 at 8:53 AM

    As a first-time dog owner, I was very surprised when our vet told us the rabies vaccine was good for three years. Relieved, too– vaccines are expensive!

    As a tangential issue, our municipality mandates city dog tags for all canine citizens, which are issued annually Jan-Dec and not pro-rated (that means you pay the same $30 whether you buy it in January or October, and they all expire December 31). But there is no law mandating rabies shots. So it’s perfectly legal to have an un-vaccinated dog, but not one without city tags. Can you say “cash grab?”

    • Mel
      July 31, 2011 at 11:21 AM

      Well that’s just strange Lori. I thought all municipalities had vaccination laws on the books. So weird that they would choose to worry over tags vs. vaccinations, but I would count myself lucky if me and my vet were able to work out the vaccinations without interference from an outdated law.

      • July 31, 2011 at 11:41 AM

        Lori, it’s federal law that *dogs* be vaccinated against rabies; with cats, it depends on the municipality. The states can only determine how often (thus the one to three year disparity). The CDC has a list of laws in every state.

      • July 31, 2011 at 11:53 AM

        Ok, now I have to take back my comment, Lori and Mel. I checked the CDC site and they just give a strong recommendation for rabies, but there is no federal law. And indeed every state and even municipalities have different laws; most relate to dogs, but some also require cats to be vaccinated. SInce there’s no similar licensing requirement they’re not enforced.

      • Mel
        July 31, 2011 at 12:35 PM

        Thanks Edie! I also found a page that lists what the rabies vaccination laws are by state. Funny enoough, Minnesota has no law at the state level. So I wonder if the two-year is a local ordinance or law?
        Here’s the link: http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/resources/publications/2009-surveillance/vaccination-laws.html

  7. July 31, 2011 at 9:31 AM

    Yes, as others have pointed out, rabies is the only vaccination mandated by law because rabid animals are a public health hazard. I don’t think rabies is the best example for the problem with vaccinations because of the risks of not vaccinating. But what you point out is a symptom of the problems with vaccination in general.

    I did a story about vaccination for the Tufts veterinary newsletter not too long ago and this is what frightened me most: The manufacturers’ recommended dose for vaccines are not adjusted for body weight, in contrast to doses of almost all other veterinary pharmaceuticals.

    So if you have a small dog, side effects are more likely. And a lot of the core vaccines — those considered essential — are “bundled,” ie., they are put together in a single dose, meaning a small dog is subject to large doses of three different types of vaccines. I could go on — and I did — but I’ll leave you with that disturbing thought.

    • Mel
      July 31, 2011 at 11:12 AM

      Edie – You are right. That is indeed disturbing. I did not know that small dogs got the same dosage as big dogs. WTH?
      I know what it’s like for a dog to have a reaction to a vaccine and it is a really scary experience. They bundled vaccinations for my dog Indy and she ended up having a seizure the very next morning and had to be hospitalized overnight at the Emergency vet when she had another one at the vet’s office that same day. From that time on she had one at least once a month, then every few weeks and then every week. She never recovered from it. I don’t let my dogs receive multiple vaccinations anymore (unless of course they are already bundled). I space out all my dogs’ vaccinations now.
      Is there any way you could share what you wrote for Tufts on your blog? I would love to link to it. I think this is information that dog owners would want to know.
      As a side note, a friend informed me at the dog park that her friend’s dog is at the U of M today after receiving several vaccinations at a chain vet clinic – the same one that gave Indy her bundled shot. It made me so sad to hear that. I hope her dog makes it.
      Thank you so much on educating me and everyone else on the additional concerns around dog vaccinations.

      • July 31, 2011 at 11:43 AM

        As Leo knows from a story I wrote on BSL, I have ridiculous copyright issues with stories that have been printed in Your Dog (even though I never signed a contract, they’re a good client and so don’t want to mess around). But I will post it as soon as I can.

      • July 31, 2011 at 11:44 AM

        P.S. I am SO sorry to hear about Indy. That’s awful.

      • Mel
        July 31, 2011 at 12:36 PM

        Thanks Edie. It was one of the saddest times in my life. She was my heart dog. A very special girl. My mom was as heartbroken as I was about Indy.

  8. July 31, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    Vaccination schedules for dogs – and for humans – confuse the heck out of me. One vet will say one thing and another will say something completely different. It’s so hard to understand the facts because a lot of this seems to be based largely on opinion.

    We changed our vet this year because our former one just didn’t seem to care enough about our pets. The former vet vaccinated for rabies every two years. But our new vet says every three years is more than okay. In fact, she seems to think it may not be necessary to vaccinate more than every five years. Since municipal laws require certain protocols, she normally will do three. It’s craziness. There is just so much information and I don’t know how to sift through it all. Since my dog doesn’t seem to react negatively to vaccinations I don’t worry too much. But I feel for those with dogs who do.

    Thanks for the links and the video. The more we talk about these things, hopefully the clearer it will become.

    • Mel
      July 31, 2011 at 11:18 AM

      I think many people are confused by vaccine schedules Kristine. I know I am. I also think that our laws need to be current with the latest medical knowledge. Politicians need to be educated on this issue. Maybe it’s not as important as everything else they deal with, but if they are pet owners they will care because it strikes home. And, just because Shiva is good with vaccines now doesn’t mean she will be later. My dog Indy was fine with them too, until one bundled injection.

      I’m very glad you find the right vet for you. I think finding the right vet is just as important as finding the right doctor don’t you?

  1. July 30, 2011 at 10:07 PM

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