Rabies Antibody Screening

Many of my own clients have much concern about over-vaccinating their pets for diseases. I also believe that we are over-vaccinating. Veterinarians for decades have used booster shots as part of their ‘bread and butter’. It’s interesting to me that the 3-year rabies vaccine we use in the United States is good for 5 years in Africa where rabies is endemic and of big concern. Why are we not vaccinating every 5 years then? Possibly people move often and forget to boost for vaccine? Perhaps they would not get their rabies reminder?

Studies have shown in past years that only 20% of the clients actually respond to their veterinarian’s reminder card for booster shots. Rabies shots can only be given by a licensed veterinarian, because rabies shots have some legality attached to them as the disease is zoonotic (can be transmitted to humans from animals).

Rabies and leptospirosis shots are two vaccines that cause the most negative side effects in the dog. Rabies vaccines have been implicated in vaccine-related cancer and seizures. Leptospirosis—a component of the distemper shot (also called a 5-in-1), can cause occasional anaphylactic shock. My personal belief is that dogs only needs one Lepto shot in their lifetime.

When things go wrong: Legally, if your dog/cat is current on their rabies shot and they bite someone, then legally you can keep your own animal quarantined at your own home for 10 days with veterinary supervision. If your animal is past due on the rabies or has never been vaccinated, the animal must be quarantined at a facility with an isolation ward at the owners’ expense which is pretty stressful to both the animal and the owner. Or, the animal must be euthanized and the brain sent to a pathology lab to be looked at with special stains to make sure that the rabies virus is not present. Horrible.

Well, a new test developed by Kansas State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab will hopefully improve current rabies vaccination protocols. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association is the first veterinary organization to support the diagnostic lab’s rabies titer test (called the RFFIT). The RFFIT test is an antibody test that can measure an animal’s immune response to the rabies virus with a blood sample. Immune animals would theoretically not need a booster shot.

Rabies titers have been studied at Kansas State University for many years. Unfortunately, until policies change, the university’s veterinarians emphasize testing does not supersede state and local laws for rabies vaccinations and registering a pet.

There are also titer tests to check for immunity for both dog and cat Distemper/ Hepatitis/ Leptospirosis and Parvo and the owner has much more leeway in the decision whether to boost or not with these vaccines. Most veterinarians practicing traditional medicine do not know about these tests yet, so you should ask around and shop around for the most affordable options as there can be a vast difference for the price of the titers, office calls, exam and blood draws.

For pet owners who would prefer titer tests over core vaccinations, Kansas State University offers a titer test for rabies and the three most common dog and cat core vaccine diseases. For information about the Kansas State University Rabies Laboratory, visit www.ksvdl.org/rabies-laboratory.

Helpful Links and References for the Rabies Titer Testing: