Rabies vaccination is supposed to be given at regular intervals – typically every 1 or 3 years, depending on the vaccine. Some people don’t want to vaccinate their pets on a regular basis, but they may not understand all the implications of this decision. Often, people ask whether antibody levels (titres) can be checked to determine if repeated vaccination is necessary or if it can be delayed longer. However, rabies is covered by very straightforward government regulations in Canada (and presumably in many other regions). According to these regulations, checking vaccine titres is not considered an acceptable alternative to regular vaccination. Knowing this, here are two scenarios to consider:
1) Your pet bites someone.
After a pet bites anyone, it must be monitored for 10 days to ensure that it does not develop signs of rabies. It makes no difference whether the animal is vaccinated or not. However, if you do not have proof that your pet has been properly vaccinated, in Ontario, it is theoretically possible that you could be charged under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
2) Your pet is exposed to a rabies suspect.
If your pet was vaccinated, you’d have two options. Most commonly, your pet would receive a booster vaccine and would be observed at home for 45 days. Alternatively, if you wanted to avoid a booster, you could take a blood sample to check the rabies titre. If a protective titre (>0.5 IU/ml) was present, there would be a 45 day observation period. If a protective titre was not present, the pet would be treated as unvaccinated.
If your pet was not vaccinated, it would be subject to a strict six-month quarantine or euthanasia.
If your was vaccinated at some point, but not vaccinated according to the vaccine manufacturer’s guidelines (i.e. it didn’t receive the appropriate 1 or 3 year booster), it would be considered unvaccinated, and be subject to the same 6 month quarantine. It would not matter if the rabies titres had been checked and a protective titre had been present in the past.
From this, it should be clear that there are serious implications of not vaccinating your pet, at least in Canada. There are some circumstances where you may be rightfully hesitant to vaccinate your pet, such as if your pet previously had a severe vaccine reaction. However, if you choose not to vaccinate, you must be aware of the implications of this decision. Neither a letter from your vet stating that vaccination would be risky nor annual rabies titre checks are going to be of any help at all because of the rules that are currently in place.