Downeast Dog News

September 28th is International Rabies Day

By Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH | Sep 01, 2017

Q. Reading about all these attacks by rabid animals scares me. Should I be vaccinating my dog more that every 3 years?

A. Last dog in Maine with rabies was in 2012 and before that 2003. There were 2 cats with rabies in 2016. Over the years, cats have many more numbers than dogs. Rabies in humans in the United States is rare.

There are different strains of rabies around the world. Here in Maine we have bat, fox, and raccoon rabies. In other parts of the world, there are more virulent strains of rabies which are a major concern for pets and people. Your pet would acquire rabies if it were bitten, saliva entering wounds, or if the rabid animal is eaten. Conventionally, there is no treatment for rabies.

Because of the lack of treatment for rabies, prevention is the best medicine. In the 1960’s, there was an epidemic of rabies around the country. To stop this epidemic laws were written requiring all dogs to be vaccinated and licensed. It is mandated that all cats must be vaccinated too.

After 2 doses of rabies vaccine, most dogs are protected. The manufacturers have tested their vaccines out to 3 years and have met the standard of protection acceptable by the FDA and the CDC. Because we don’t have data stating the vaccine lasts longer than 3 years, it is required by law for dogs to be vaccinated every 3 years after the initial 2 vaccines. So your dog does not need to be vaccinated more frequently than every 3 years for rabies unless he has been exposed to a rabid or suspected rabid animal.

With new research published in January 2015, the Maine Rabies Management Guidelines (4th edition, 2017) have changed from the previous guidelines. The important changes are if a dog has been suspected or confirmed of exposure to rabies and has a current rabies vaccine, or if there is documentation of one or more rabies vaccines, these dogs are given a rabies vaccine and quarantined for 45 days in the owner’s home. When the exposed dog is unvaccinated or does not have a record of being vaccinated, these dogs are considered unvaccinated and are isolated for 4 months in a designated facility or euthanized. For a guardian who thinks the dog was vaccinated but there isn’t any documentation, a rabies titer can be given and sent out before being vaccinated. If the titer comes back positive, then the dog can be quarantined in the owner’s home for 45 days, but a negative titer would indicate the dog has never been vaccinated and is treated as such. If you want to read the entire document, you can google Maine Rabies Management Guidelines.

Research is continuing on the duration of rabies vaccines and the anti-viral level of protective antibodies for these vaccines. Once this information is published, we may see another change in our rabies guidelines. If you wish to support this research, contact the Rabies Challenge to make a donation. Their website is


Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, ME 04330