Decisions, Decisions…1 or 3 yr Rabies Vaccine for Dogs?


Authored by:  JoAnn Lutmer-Paulson

The Basics

All dogs should receive their first rabies vaccination between 4 and 6 months of age.  Dogs then return to the vet a year later for a rabies booster shot; the dog’s body will then build up antibodies to protect the dog in case it is bitten by a rabid animal.   All dogs must then receive a new booster at least every three years after that, but some states require a booster annually rather than every three years.

The Reasons for the Vaccine

 There are two primary reasons for your dog to receive the rabies vaccine: it’s legally required and it helps prevent your dog from developing rabies.  Every state in the U.S. requires that dogs are up to date on their rabies vaccine; what ‘up to date’ means may vary according to the state.  Rabies is such a concern for health officials for the following reasons:

  • It can be spread very rapidly
  • It is a fatal disease
  • It can be transported from animals to humans
  • There is no cure for rabies
  • Rabid animals are usually unable to distinguish between friend and foe, so your beloved pooch may not be as loving as you’d like to think

The 1 or 3 Year Decision

 Most often, people know that there are two rabies boosters – a one year option and a three year option.  Naturally, people want to protect their pets and thus often question which vaccine is the best one.  The 1 and 3 yr vaccinations are actually the exact same drug in the exact same dosage; the real issue is simply whether that vaccine will be good for only about a year or if it lasts much longer.
According to veterinarian Dr. Janet Tobiassen “What makes the rabies vaccination “good” for one year or three years is determined by two things: the animal’s age and rabies vaccine history and if the state and municipal laws require annual vaccinations for rabies.”  The American Animal Hospital Association and most veterinarians recommend – in general – that you vaccinate every three years.

The Right Decision for Your Pup

Despite general guidelines and recommendations for the three year choice, the point remains that your dog may need the one year vaccine. The dog’s immune system, overall general health, disease agents, and more may imply that a more frequent booster (such as an annual one) is beneficial.

A veterinarian who has seen your dog(s) before should be able to give you some clarity if you are concerned that your pet’s health may be putting them at risk.  As Dr. Tobiassen states in, “Please speak to your veterinarian about the best vaccination protocol for your specific pet(s), location, and lifestyle.”

In general, however, the three year vaccine should provide ample coverage to keep your dog healthy and protected. Vaccine requirements for each pet and geographic location are different.
The Extras
There are a few other points to be aware of when it comes to the rabies vaccine:
  • Some dogs can have a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine, but your vet may be able to exempt animals if they have reason to be concerned
  • There is testing being done on rabies vaccinations to gauge if they protect a dog for 5-7 years, so that 3yr booster is usually a safe bet
  • Just because you may not have to get the booster annually doesn’t mean you should avoid veterinarian visits.  Wellness visits help prevent problems before they arise and are not limited to rabies prevented, so still be sure to have your pooch checked out regularly.


Photo: Courtesy of snappED_up via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Originally posted 2012-07-09 17:12:21.