Issues with dropping rabies shots for an older dog?
May 13, 2015 9:43 AM   Subscribe

At our 10-year-old Standard Poodle's last yearly checkup his vet mentioned that he was old enough that they no longer advised vaccinating, making the point that he was old enough that vaccine complications made the risk of vaccinating more significant, and advised that we drop the vaccines. I'm looking for a reality check with other pet owners on how this might conflict with various social logistics around vaccinations...

My husband was the one who took him to the appointment, and was inclined to accept the advice without giving it much consideration. I'm not opposed to dropping the vaccines if it's sound veterinary advice, but I'm worried about the realities of having an unvaccinated dog.

1. We just got the annual renewal for his dog license, which we do through our local municipality. In order to renew we need to submit a vaccine certification. They don't seem to make an allowance for "or a note from your vet stating the dog should not be vaccinated." I could also respond that the dog is dead or that we have moved, but neither are true. I might be overthinking, but I'm not sure if we are setting ourselves up for fines or other issues down the road.

2. Our dog does an off-leash hiking group a couple of times a week, on private land but definitely in a rural area where he could encounter wild or stray animals. I feel he's at a higher than normal risk to be exposed, although overall it's probably still unlikely. We are in San Mateo County in the bay area.

As I type all this, I feel like I've talked myself in to getting him the rabies shot. Any other opinions or things I am not considering or don't realize?
posted by handful of rain to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The one place where it might come up is if you want to board him. I had an old cat who we stopped getting vaccines for because he was old and ill and he was lacking the 2 shots required when I looked into boarding him during hot weather. Not sure if it would be a issue with sitters. The other thing is if he were to get out and bite someone. Not sure how a shelter would treat an unvaccinated dog.
posted by oneear at 9:47 AM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I won't thread sit any more, but oneear that is a good point. He boards through the same place that he does the off-leash hiking. They have never in the years we have used them asked for any updated paperwork, but it doesn't mean they wouldn't at some point in the future. I am not sure about their policy on older dogs and vaccines. He is up to date on bordatella, fwiw.
posted by handful of rain at 9:51 AM on May 13, 2015

Our older pug is 12, and the vet that he sees also suggested that we drop some of the vaccines. However, he didn't mention rabies as one of those, and he asked a series of questions for the others - i.e., is your dog often around other dogs, is he out in the woods/with access to streams, etc where he can catch stuff.

The place we board our younger dog sometimes asks for updated rabies, etc vaccines and sometimes not - I think that the vaccines have to be given a certain amount of time before the stay, as well.
posted by needlegrrl at 9:53 AM on May 13, 2015

For the boarding question, you may just want to call your usual place and ask this question. The place we wanted to board our elderly cat was fine with a note from the vet explaining why she no longer had certain vaccinations. The licensing question might be resolved with a note as well, you should just call to ask.
posted by JenMarie at 9:56 AM on May 13, 2015

My vet told me earlier this month that many boarding places will also accept titers rather than proof of shots. Then they called my boarding place and they didn't even know what a titer was, but anyway, it is something you could look into. My vet did not suggest not continuing rabies shots, and my dog is 14, because "well, you have to do that one", but for bordatella and parvo, she was recommending to consider not doing them.
posted by freezer cake at 10:03 AM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's not unheard-of for pets to go unvaccinated for medical reasons; one of my pets should not be vaccinated per my vet due to an autoimmune condition, and my vet told me this is generally acceptable for pet boarding with documentation, and that she would write a letter to that effect if I ever need it.

That said, I'd be much more hesitant to drop rabies shots with an outdoor pet. In your situation I think I'd call the licensing people and ask if there is some sort of medical exemption that can be provided with documentation. But even if so, with off-leash hiking, I'm not sure I'd drop the vaccination. What schedule are you on now? I wonder if you might be able to drop to one of the shots given less frequently, and if that might be a good compromise measure.
posted by Stacey at 10:13 AM on May 13, 2015

In case it helps you make your decision you can see the reported rabid animals by county for CA going back a few years here
posted by oneear at 10:17 AM on May 13, 2015

If it makes you feel better, there have been no rabid animals reported in San Mateo so far in 2015 and there were none in 2014 either. FWIW, our vet made the same recommendation, though we are in an area where the virus is even rarer. [On preview: jinx!]
posted by karbonokapi at 10:18 AM on May 13, 2015

Have you called the relevant office at city hall to ask them? Maybe they have another form or there is an informal process to renew the license without having to have the rabies certification. Or, they might tell you in no uncertain terms that you MUST vaccinate.

Then the decision is really about the health risk of getting the vaccination vs. the risk of having a dog without a license (and whatever consequences that entails if you get caught).
posted by VTX at 10:48 AM on May 13, 2015

Best answer: Hi there, I work in the regulation of biologics--a category that includes vaccines like the veterinary rabies one you're talking about.

The main issue with this vaccine is that it's the only veterinary vaccine for which there's a statutory federal requirement for licensed products to have a demonstrated duration of immunity. The way one establishes DOI is at present fairly crude (if a manufacturer wants to say on the product label that their product confers protection for 3 years, they have to vaccinate dogs, wait three years, and then challenge them + control animals who didn't receive the vaccine with live, virulent rabies virus to show that controls die and vaccinates do not). As a consequence, not many manufacturers are willing to go down the route of confirming that their product confers a longer DOI than the current label claims state.

That said, the suspicion is that DOI is longer, possibly much longer, than current label claims. There's at least one project running now to see if 5- to 7-year DOI is conferred by two of the main products on the market. This is why the conversation about "over-vaccination" is real--we suspect that we're routinely shocking animals' immune systems with antigens against which a significant immune response is mounted. The adverse impact of this is debated, even in my field, but it's fairly apparent that it can have adverse effects, and those effects are potentiated by age. Exemptions from vaccination are allowed in some states because of this, some of which require that you accept the liability of your dog giving someone rabies should that occur.

Finally, speaking personally, I wouldn't hesitate to push vaccines out of the picture for an ailing dog who has already been vaccinated and boosted in the last 5-7 years with some confidence that s/he's still protected. I'd ask more questions beyond that time frame unless my dog was notably ill or infirm with age, at which point I would not give a flip about regulations over the dog's well-being in his final couple years. I would, however, keep him in my sight / tell guests about the issue / and not take him around strangers' kids (not for health reasons, but for parent freak out reasons).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:06 AM on May 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

Anecdote: my geriatric dog died (likely a stroke) the day after receiving his scheduled rabies vaccine. Maybe it was coincidence, and he had other ailments that probably meant he wouldn't have had a lot longer regardless, but all the same, I wish my vet had given me the option to drop the vaccination schedule. He was 17, no previous issues with standard vaccines.
posted by Kriesa at 11:36 AM on May 13, 2015

Best answer: After they've had two rounds of annual vaccines, we go to a 4-5 yr vaccine schedule for our dogs, with the exception of rabies, which we faithfully keep them up to date on. We can't get ours licensed w/o that rabies certificate but really the main reason is, if there is ever a question of their rabies vaccine status, it could be the difference between life & death for them. I've known of cases where the pet was put down due to a lack of proof of that rabies vaccine, it's not worth the risk for us. Also knew a lady who paid a large sum of money to have her cat boarded for 6 months after a bat got in her apt. and the cat was not vaccinated that year. I don't believe titer tests are legally valid in most localities as far as rabies goes unfortunately.

I don't like doing it but they are always up to date on that one vaccine. The rest? I tell the tech to remove the syringes as soon as I step in the exam room, they always set them up even after I specifically say we're just coming in for an exam and HW test. The doctor never bats an eye at me either.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 1:04 PM on May 13, 2015

California does have a medical exemption for rabies vaccines according to this, so you should be OK legally.

I had a dog with an exemption for cancer and IIRC, another one for old age, and I didn't have any issues with registration or anything else. I didn't board either one, but if you're worried about specific situations, you could just ask. Rabies vaccines are important overall, but the individual risk is actually quite small and generally not considered worth the risk in certain cases. Just guessing here, but I'm thinking if there was a possibility he was exposed, you'd probably quarantine for ten days or whatever.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:38 PM on May 13, 2015

If your dog has been properly vaccinated up to now (every 3 years), then your dog is very likely immune to rabies (this is being studied currently, as has been mentioned). Ask your vet to write you a letter of rabies exemption (we do this all the time for old or seriously debilitated dogs), most towns accept that, but it likely is a good idea to ask them.
posted by biscotti at 3:24 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

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