The latest guidelines for rabies prevention include 2 significant changes in the recommended management of dogs and cats exposed to rabies. Dogs and cats that are overdue for a rabies vaccine booster may be able to receive a booster and 45 days of observation at home rather than undergoing quarantine or euthanasia. The recommended quarantine period for unvaccinated dogs and cats has been shortened from 6 months to 4 months.
The updated recommendations are included in the 2016 Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, developed by the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians. The compendium can be used by local jurisdictions to develop rabies control programs. However, the guidelines do not replace or override existing local regulations.
Changes in the 2016 compendium, compared with the 2011 version, include the following:
- Language clarification
- Recommendation for an interdisciplinary approach to rabies control
- Recommendation for additional data collection on a national level to improve surveillance
- New management guidelines for dogs and cats that are exposed to rabies and are unvaccinated or overdue for booster vaccination
- Reduction in the recommended quarantine period for some species
- Update of the list of animal rabies vaccines currently on the market
The new recommendations for dogs and cats are based on a 2015 study of rabies antibody responses and on unpublished data. Dr. Catherine Brown, co-chair of the compendium committee, said in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that the committee “wanted to make sure that [they] were using the best science available in order to help protect public health but also reduce the need for unnecessary euthanasia or quarantine of animals.”
A partial list of the recommendations concerning dogs and cats is as follows (please see the compendium for the full guidelines, including those dealing with other species):
- After the initial rabies vaccination, an animal is considered immunized after 28 days (when the rabies antibody titer is expected to peak).
- The first booster vaccine is due 1 year later.
- Animals are considered currently vaccinated immediately after the booster vaccine is given. This includes animals that were overdue for the booster vaccine.
Management of dogs and cats exposed to rabies:
- Dogs and cats current on rabies vaccination should receive a booster vaccine, medical care including wound treatment, and 45 days of monitoring under the owner’s control.
- Dogs and cats with no rabies vaccine history should be euthanized or kept in strict quarantine for 4 months with no direct contact with people or other animals. If animals are quarantined rather than euthanized, they should receive a rabies vaccine within 96 hours of exposure, at the beginning of the quarantine.
- Dogs and cats that are overdue for a rabies booster and have documentation of a prior rabies vaccine should receive a booster vaccine, medical care including wound treatment, and 45 days of monitoring under the owner’s control.
- Dogs and cats that are overdue for a rabies booster but have no documentation of a prior rabies vaccine can be treated as unvaccinated (booster vaccine and 4-month quarantine) or, with the guidance of the local public health authority, might be able to undergo serologic testing to provide evidence of prior vaccination. If this testing indicates an adequate response to vaccination, the animal can be treated as overdue for a booster (receiving a booster vaccine and 45 days of monitoring).
- Dogs and cats that bite humans should be kept in confinement and observed daily for 10 days regardless of their rabies vaccination status.
- These animals should not receive a rabies vaccine during the observation period.
- Any signs of illness during the confinement period should be reported to the local health department, and the animal should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
- If the signs of illness suggest rabies, the animal should be euthanized and tested for rabies (head or entire brain submitted).
- Stray or unwanted dogs and cats that expose a human should be euthanized immediately and tested for rabies.
Dr. Laurie Anne Walden received her doctorate in veterinary medicine from North Carolina State University in 1994. After an internship at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, she returned to North Carolina, where she has been in companion animal general practice for over 20 years. Dr. Walden is also a board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences and owner of Walden Medical Writing.