My Dog’s Rabies Vaccine Expired Before He Bit Someone – Now What?

Introduction

Rabies is a serious virus that affects the central nervous system in warm-blooded mammals, including dogs and humans. According to the World Health Organization, rabies causes approximately 59,000 deaths worldwide each year (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/rabies). Keeping pet dogs up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations is crucial for preventing the spread of this deadly virus. When a rabies vaccination expires, it leaves dogs vulnerable to contracting rabies if they are exposed. It also poses a public health risk if an unvaccinated dog transmits rabies by biting a human or other animal. This article will examine the importance of keeping rabies vaccinations current for dogs and the protocols to follow if someone is bitten by a dog with an expired vaccination.

Background on Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system and is transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rabies kills approximately 59,000 people worldwide each year. In the United States, rabies has been nearly eliminated thanks to animal control and vaccination programs. The CDC reports that only 1-3 human rabies cases are documented each year in the U.S. https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/location/usa/surveillance/human_rabies.html.

The rabies virus is found in the saliva of infected mammals and can be transmitted through bites, scratches, or contact with mucous membranes. Nearly all human cases result from contact with infected bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Cats, dogs, and livestock can also transmit rabies if they are not properly vaccinated. According to the CDC, wild animals accounted for 92% of reported rabid animals in 2018. Rabies is almost always fatal once clinical symptoms appear, but can be prevented through prompt post-exposure prophylaxis.

Rabies Vaccination Requirements

Rabies is a fatal viral disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals, including dogs. Rabies is most commonly spread through a bite or scratch from an infected animal. To prevent the spread of rabies, most states have laws requiring dog owners to vaccinate their pets against the disease.

According to the Table of Rabies Vaccination Laws, 39 states mandate rabies vaccination for dogs. Some counties and cities may also have additional vaccination requirements on top of state laws.

Typically, rabies vaccination laws require puppies to receive their first rabies shot at 3-6 months of age. After the initial vaccine, dogs must receive a rabies booster 1 year later and then every 1-3 years, depending on the vaccine used. Core rabies vaccines, such as Nobivac and Rabvac, provide 3 years of protection after the booster.

While rabies vaccines are required by law in most states, some states allow exemptions from the vaccination requirements for medical reasons certified by a veterinarian. However, the majority of states do not permit rabies vaccination exemptions.

Failure to keep a dog’s rabies vaccination up-to-date as required by law can result in fines, impoundment of the animal, and even criminal charges in some cases.

Keeping Vaccinations Current

It is extremely important to keep your pet’s vaccinations up-to-date and not allow them to expire. Expired vaccines may not provide full protection against diseases. According to What happens if you get an expired vaccine?, using an expired vaccine could potentially cause harmful reactions, although there are limited documented cases. Giving an overdose due to an expired vaccine is also a risk according to Don’t Be Guilty of These Preventable Errors in Vaccine Handling.

To avoid issues, pet owners should set reminders and keep track of when their pet’s shots are due for renewal. Most core vaccines for dogs, such as rabies, are required on an annual basis. Mark your calendar ahead of time and make veterinary appointments to get booster shots. Keep the veterinary records in a safe place showing your pet’s vaccination history. Taking these simple steps will help ensure your furry friend stays up-to-date on critical vaccines.

What To Do After A Dog Bite

person washing dog bite wound

If you or someone else has been bitten by a dog, it is important to take quick action to clean and treat the wound properly. According to WebMD, the first step is to immediately wash the bite with soap and warm water for at least 5 minutes to help remove dirt, debris, and saliva that could cause infection1. Gently pat dry the wound with a clean towel. Do not scrub the wound or use hydrogen peroxide or iodine, as this can damage tissue.

Next, apply antibiotic ointment, such as Bacitracin, Neosporin, or Polysporin, to the bite. The antibiotic ointment should be applied every day until the wound is fully healed to prevent bacterial infection. Cover the wound with sterile bandages that should be changed at least daily. Elevating the wound and applying an ice pack can help reduce swelling and pain.

It is also crucial to seek medical care as soon as possible after a dog bite. Banner Health recommends seeing a doctor right away, even for minor bites, as infections can develop quickly2. At the doctor’s office, the wound will be thoroughly cleaned and assessed. The doctor can determine if stitches, antibiotics, or a tetanus shot are necessary to properly treat the bite. Seeking prompt medical attention is vital to avoid complications from dog bites.

Reporting The Incident

If your dog bites someone, it is crucial to report the incident to your local animal control department. According to the New York City Department of Health, you must report any type of animal bite within 24 hours of the event [1]. When you report the bite, animal control will investigate and determine if the dog needs to be quarantined. They typically require details about the bite such as:

  • Date, time, and location of the bite
  • Name and contact details of the dog owner
  • Description of the dog (breed, age, sex)
  • Name and contact details of the person who was bitten
  • Details about the circumstances leading up to the bite

Reporting the bite serves as official documentation of the incident, which can help determine liability issues. According to FindLaw, the dog owner may be liable for any injuries and damages caused by the bite [2]. However, the liability depends on the specific circumstances and local laws. For example, the owner may not be liable if the bite occurred when someone was trespassing or provoking the dog. Nonetheless, it is essential to report all bites so there is an official record.

Quarantine Period

dog in quarantine cage at vet clinic

The typical quarantine period after a dog bite is 10 days. This is the recommended time frame according to the CDC and state health departments (https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/exposure/animals/domestic.html, https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/infectiousdiseases/assets/rabiesquarantinefactsheet.pdf). The purpose of the quarantine is to observe the dog for any signs of rabies infection.

During the 10-day quarantine, the dog must be kept isolated and under observation. The animal’s behavior should be monitored closely, watching for symptoms like aggression, excessive drooling, trouble swallowing, and overall strange behavior. Any signs of illness in the dog during quarantine should be reported to animal control or public health authorities immediately.

If the dog remains asymptomatic for 10 days, it can be assumed the animal did not have rabies at the time of the bite. Quarantining provides an incubation period to see if rabies develops in the dog. According to the CDC, dogs and cats that appear healthy throughout the 10-day observation period pose very little risk of developing rabies later on.

Testing The Dog

Testing for rabies can only be done after the dog has died. According to the CDC, rabies testing requires brain tissue from animals suspected of being rabid and can only be performed post-mortem (Source). The test looks for the rabies virus in the brain tissue and can confirm whether the animal was infected.

If the test comes back positive, that confirms the dog had rabies at the time of death. This means the dog was shedding the virus and capable of transmitting it by a bite around the time the exposure occurred. Positive results are reported to public health officials who may recommend rabies postexposure prophylaxis for anyone who had contact with the dog’s saliva.

A positive rabies test is very serious, as rabies is almost always fatal in humans once symptoms appear. But the good news is that getting appropriate treatment after an exposure, before symptoms start, is nearly 100% effective in preventing the disease.

Preventing Future Incidents

vet scan of dog brain

To prevent future dog bites, it’s important to take steps to manage aggressive behavior in dogs. One option is muzzling. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), muzzling dogs when in public can help prevent bites if you have an aggressive dog (https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/dog-bite-prevention). Make sure to introduce the muzzle gradually and use positive reinforcement so the dog accepts wearing it.

Proper socialization and training from a young age are also key to preventing aggression. The ASPCA recommends early socialization to get puppies used to people, other pets, noises, and handling (https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/dog-bite-prevention). Enroll in a puppy kindergarten class for basic obedience. Continue training as your dog grows using reward-based methods. Never use physical punishment, which can make dogs more aggressive.

It’s important to watch your dog’s body language and intervene if they seem fearful or uncomfortable in new situations. Let them progress at their own pace and don’t force interactions. With patience and positive reinforcement, you can help curb aggressive tendencies.

Conclusion

In summary, it’s extremely important that all dog owners keep their pet’s rabies vaccinations current to prevent the spread of this deadly virus. While the rabies virus is quite rare in the United States thanks to vaccination efforts, it’s a fatal disease once symptoms appear. If your dog’s rabies vaccination has expired, schedule an appointment with your vet right away to get it updated.

We all want to be responsible pet owners and ensure the safety of our family, friends and community members. Keeping your dog up-to-date on its rabies shots is a key part of that. Doing so could prevent a devastating scenario where your pet has to be quarantined or euthanized after biting someone. Protect your furry friend and those around you by staying on top of those rabies boosters.

owner getting dog rabies vaccine appointment

With some diligence on the vaccination front, restraint and training when interacting with strangers, you can avoid difficult situations like the one discussed here. Be a responsible pet owner to enjoy many happy and healthy years with your dog.

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