How Often Do Dogs Need Rabies Shots

The requirement for a rabies booster depends upon the vaccine used and state laws.


When your dog needs an annual rabies shot depends on if he previously received a one- or three-year vaccine. However, even if he got a three-year vaccination, your dog’s rabies shot schedule is still dictated by state laws. Both the one- and three-year versions are approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Fortunately, most states (Ohio and Hawaii have no rabies vaccine requirements) rely on the “Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, 2016,” published by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, to make decisions about when dogs needs rabies boosters, and they accept the three-year vaccine.

Extending Rabies Booster Intervals

The 2020 Rabies Challenge Fund Research Study, with esteemed lead researcher W. Jean Dodds, DVM, set out to determine if rabies booster intervals could stretch to five or seven years. The reason for the study was to maximize revaccination periods to reduce vaccine-related adverse events. Reactions to rabies vaccines are rare, but they can occur, especially in ill and senior dogs. The study demonstrates that the duration of immunity to rabies in vaccinated dogs extends beyond three years and that immunologic memory exists even in vaccinated dogs with a low serum antibody titer.

Further research is required, but if you have a dog who severely reacts to vaccinations or cannot have a rabies vaccination due to other health concerns, there is hope. At least 16 states offer waivers. Applying for a waiver requires the help of your veterinarian.

When to Vaccinate Your Dog for Rabies

When a dog can get a rabies shot depends upon his age. A puppy should have his first rabies vaccination at 14 to 16 weeks of age and another vaccine a year later. He then needs a booster shot every one to three years, depending on the vaccine. Only licensed veterinarians can give rabies shots, so discuss the vaccine with your vet.

What To Do When Your Dog Encounters Rabid Animal

Rabies is carried mostly by raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats, which even city dogs may encounter. A study in the Sept. 15, 2009, Journal of the American Veterinary Association showed that rabies cases in vaccinated animals are rare, but they do occur.

If a dog is exposed to rabies and vaccinated, he will be revaccinated immediately and put under the owner’s control. The dog must be watched for signs of rabies for 45 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Signs of rabies include:

If the dog was never vaccinated, the CDC advises euthanasia. If the owner objects, an immediate rabies vaccination may be given, and the dog is required to undergo a four-month strict quarantine.

Georgia has by far the most documented cases of rabies in wild animals, followed by New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, and California. Surviving rabies is rare in both dogs and humans, and the cost of treating a canine rabies case can run to $12,000 or more with no guarantee of survival.

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John Strassburger was the editor of The Chronicle of the Horse from 1986-2006 and worked for the magazine as a special correspondent until 2010. He was then training editor for the Horse Journal until 2017. He has been the owner and trainer at Phoenix Farm in Santa Rosa, Calif., since 2006. He is a graduate A from the U.S. Pony Clubs and has competed in eventing to the three-star level. He has owned about a dozen dogs since he was a teenager and now owns a Doberman Pinscher named Boreas and a Livestock Guardian Dog named Isis. He is married and has a 13-year-old son.