A study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (Murray et al 2009) investigated the rabies vaccination history of dogs and cats diagnosed with rabies in 21 US states between 1997 and 2001. 

  • 264 rabid dogs and 840 rabid cats were identified.
  • 4.9% of rabid dogs and 2.6% of rabid cats had a history of rabies vaccination.
  • Of the 13 dogs that had been vaccinated, only 2 were considered currently vaccinated. Similarly, of the 22 previously vaccinated cats, only 3 were currently vaccinated.
  • Texas had the most positive dogs while Pennsylvania had the most positive cats.

This study cannot determine how effective vaccination is. You’d need to know the number of animals that were and were not vaccinated, and then the number that did or didn’t get rabies to determine efficacy. The fact that a small number of properly vaccinated animals got rabies shows the vaccine is not 100% protective, which is not surprising.

Vaccination is an important part of rabies prevention, but it’s not the only part. Vaccination is a last line of defense – avoiding exposure to rabies is the critical first line. To reduce the risk of rabies exposure, keep your pets under your control at all times. Keep bats out of the house and try to ensure that your house and yard are not welcoming to wild animals. Don’t let your pets have contact with wildlife and pay close attention when strangely-acting wildlife are around. Active measures to reduce wildlife rabies such as rabies baiting are also important.

Don’t assume because your pet is vaccinated that you don’t have to worry about trying to reduce the risk of exposure to rabies.

Don’t assume that an animal with neurological disease doesn’t have rabies just because it’s been vaccinated.