Rabies Laws Changed? No.
There was a rapidly written, poorly thought out article on supposed “big news” this week. To whit:
There have been recent changes in the rabies laws that could mean the difference between life and death for your dog.”
Oh, really? I didn’t read it this way. What laws have changed, specifically? Is this fact or hyperbole?
What Really Happened This Week
You may have read some exciting rabies news back in early 2015 about Kansas State’s research data on “out of date” rabies vaccinated animals. These were dogs and cats who had been exposed to wild rabies and were brought to vets with fears that their animals might be goners.
These “out of date” dogs and cats showed titer levels lower than what’s considered “protective,” meaning their rabies antibody levels had fallen below 0.5.
Oh oh. Does “not protective” mean they were doomed to get rabies from that rabid raccoon they scuffled with?
It turns out, no. They were given booster rabies vaccines and BOOM, they made huge jumps to “protective” titer status in short order. In fact, as I pointed out earlier, they actually did better than those who were “up to date” on their rabies vaccinations!
Well, these data were noticed by the right peeps, luckily for you and your dogs, cats, and ferrets (the main species who can transmit rabies to other animals or humans, if they get it themselves. It takes a biting carnivore to get this done well).
Those officials who noticed, authored a new version of the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control. They are the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, or NASPHV for short. And that lengthy compendium document is often referred to by jurisdictions who have say over when your animal must be rabies vaccinated, what happens to her if she bites someone, or if she’s bitten by a rabid animal.
That governing body could be your state, your county, or even your township, to use U.S. parlance.
In this brand spanking new 2016 Compendium recently released, a few things were updated. Based on that cool K State data, the new recommendation by the NASPHV gives a more logical option if your pet was bitten by a known rabid animal. And was “out of date” on her rabies vaccines, according to the vaccine label and/or your governing body.
Here’s that new option:
Your out of date rabies-bitten animal can now receive a booster rabies vaccination (just another dose of the usual vaccine) and a home observation period. Instead of isolation in quarantine or euthanasia.
If you pet was unvaccinated for rabies when the rabid skunk bit her, she will need to go into quarantine. But her sentence has been reduced from six months to four.
Putting This Into Perspective
Let’s look at a version comparison to get a better sense of what that means to you. Remember, this centers around your animal getting a bite from a known rabid animal. This isn’t your animal biting a person. Significantly different scenario there.
Here’s the old version (2011) vs the new version (2016) for a couple of classes of “bitees:”
Abbrev: O = owner; R = rabies
The good news is that the new Compendium recommends treating your “out of date” rabies exposed dog or cat just like those who were “up to date” on their vaccinations: giving an immediate booster vaccination and home observation for 45 days.
In the 2011 Compendium, it was either euthanasia or a six month vet clinic quarantine, at a likely cost of thousands of dollars.
Is that “life or death” news, as the headline screamed?
Nope. It’s just better news if your animals have been exposed to a rabid animal. And that’s a pretty rare event. And, you always had the right to choose quarantine over euthanasia. Now, it’s a couple months shorter.
Did Any Laws Change, Then?
Nope again. This Compendium is merely a guideline. A collection of “best practices” around rabies control. Your governing jurisdiction can choose to follow it or not. It has no legal status what so ever.
But, there was a fine quote that came out of the Kansas State research that is of value to you. I’d suggest you own this understanding deeply, and even keep it in your files next to your rabies vaccination slip and your copy of the Compendium 2016. When you do, your case will be that much stronger to help you stand up to Dr. WhiteCoat when he insists your animal needs another rabies shot STAT!
It’s from Dr. Michael C. Moore, lead author of the study on out-of-date rabies vaccination status at K State. Here’s what he said, in relation to his discovery that “out of date” animals respond even better than “up to date” animals:
When it comes to vaccinating either people or animals, they don’t just all of a sudden on a predetermined date have zero protection (emphasis mine) or loss of priming.”
So, you know that immunity your animal got from that early (over 4 months of age) vaccination? It lasts a long time, as we’ve known now for decades. This is further confirmation for you that, just because the vaccine label said “1 year” or “3 year” rabies, that has no basis in the reality of DOI (duration of immunity).
Odds are, that early immunity lasts a lifetime, say the immunologists.
Those labels came about because, well, that’s how long the manufacturer ran their study. A year for one lot of rabies vaccine. Three years for another (likely identical) lot of rabies vaccine.
Should that label rule your life?
Not if you’re smart.
You May Be the Smartest Person in the Room
An important consideration for you is this. If you’re in a jam with animal control because your animal was either bitten by a rabid animal or bit a person, if you understand what the NASPHV is recommending, you are likely to know more than animal control does.
I’d suggest you keep a copy of the new Compendium printed out in your files. Highlight those areas that say, “If the owner is unwilling to have the animal euthanized…” and “Management of animals that bite humans.”
To make it easy, I’ve done just that for you. You can pick up your highlighted copy on your Member Home page. If you’re not presently a Vital Animal Pack member, you can easily become one, free of charge, to download your free copy. You’ll see a place to register on Member Home, if you haven’t already.
Being Bitten vs Biting: Different Consequences
These are two very different scenarios to be aware of:
- Your animal was bitten by a known rabid animal
- Your animal bit a person
The former has a longer observation or quarantine period because it can take weeks to months to contract rabies from a bite wound. It’s also far more rare than #2.
The latter has a maximum quarantine (sometimes allowed at home) of 10 days.
Why? Well, if your animal bit someone, because she actually had rabies, her condition will deteriorate within 10 days. Rabid animals get crazy and bite as they get close to dying.
Most times, animals bite not because they have rabies. They have poor manners (like Buddy, my patient who ended up in quarantine). They were biting out of fear. They were vaccinated against rabies multiple times in their life, as were their parents and grandparents, and now they are edgy. Quarrelsome. Even vicious.
Let’s Stop the Fear
I really want to put this knee jerk fear of “They’ll chop off your animal’s head if he’s not current on his shots!” to rest. It certainly doesn’t have to be this way. Let us know in the comments if you’ve been through either bite scenario and what the outcome was.