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Why Not Vaccinating a Dog is a Big Deal

Because Lilly developed vaccine-induced meningoencephalomyelitis / meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the brain and lining of the brain and spinal cord) after getting a rabies vaccine, she can NEVER get another vaccine. Period. Here is why that’s a big deal.

Yesterday, we discussed the pro / anti-vaccine issues.

I wanted, however, to outline the implications in more detail. As I mentioned Monday, rabies is the ONLY vaccine that’s legally mandated. Technically, if you wanted to go by merely the letter of the law, that’s the only vaccination your dog is required to get.

Of course, my veterinary friends would expand that list, and in many cases, I agree with a slightly longer list of important vaccines.

BUT since literally Lilly can never get another vaccine for the rest of her life (she is 8 now), I wanted to talk about what exactly that means for our life … particularly the rabies issue.

Let me repeat this important point from Monday:

If your dog is not vaccinated for rabies and either bites a person or another pet or is somehow exposed to a rabid animal, officials can force you to:

It’s very, very real as a couple of families recently discovered:

The Levy Family (Florida) Forced to Euthanize 3 Dogs: “Post-exposure rabies vaccination was recommended for the owner. Friday, the owner, his wife and the two children went to an Alachua hospital for treatment. The family’s other two dogs will be euthanized.”

The Wright Family (Missouri) Given 2 Options – Euthanize 1 Dog or Strict Quarantine: “Petside.com has since learned the state did not order Macy euthanized. State documents show the county had two options: Quarantine or euthanasia.”

(I tried to fix the link so that it doesn’t strikethrough the text, but I cannot figure it out. Sorry.)

Why are states so aggressive in these cases? Because without aggressive treatment, people do NOT survive rabies (there have been a few rare cases of people surviving rabies via an aggressive, expensive, and risky treatment option — other than the post-exposure vaccines people most often receive in these cases). U.S. soldiers have been exposed and have died from rabies while fighting overseas.

***

That’s the GIGANTIC reason that Lilly not being able to be vaccinated is a big deal. We’re fine until 2015 when her current rabies vaccination “expires” in the state / county’s eyes. And, yes, we can get a waiver, and that’s GREAT … unless Lilly ever bites anyone or unless she comes in contact with rabid wildlife.

We easily could have another 8 years of vigorous protection ahead of us — from other people, other dogs, wildlife.

Remember that sick raccoon Lilly once found?

I don’t really worry about Lilly biting anyone. Even our animal behaviorist felt that Lilly wasn’t a bite risk, even when she was taking anxiety meds that can lower bite inhibition in some dogs. If Lilly gets really scared, she’ll shut down or retreat. So someone would have to push her too far before she would snap.

But, you know, people don’t “get” fearful dogs, and loose dogs do chase us pretty often. Lilly does have poor / stunted social skills. It isn’t unheard of that she might get in a scuffle.

So, I worry. I’ll protect her with all my might, of course, but things happen.

Our veterinarian has another client with a small dog who cannot be vaccinated due to anaphylaxis risk. That dog did bite someone. The county / state felt the dog had adequate rabies protection — shown by titer testing. Officials, however, left it up to the person who was bitten to decide the dog’s fate. Our veterinarian did not tell me the outcome (when we had a frank discussion about what not vaccinating Lilly really means), so I can only assume it wasn’t good.

***

There are other ways, though, that not being able to vaccinate Lilly will affect her life and ours:

  • Many boarding kennels won’t take dogs without “current” vaccinations. (… Though we’ve never found a kennel that would work for our fearful dog.)
  • Other states may not recognize our future rabies “waiver,” which could make traveling across state lines with Lilly “illegal.”
  • Forget dog parks and such (not that Lilly likes them much).

***

So, while it’s easy to say, “No vaccines ever again,” it’s a much bigger deal that most people assume.

Thanks. I just had to get that off my chest. (smirk)

 

 

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Pup Fan - June 28, 2012

Very informative post, Roxanne. I’m sorry to hear that some people have been treating it as “no big deal.”

You know, until your recent situation with Lilly, I’d never really considered the issue in this context. I’ve heard a great deal of debate about vaccinating/not vaccinating in the human context, but this is really the first time I’ve had the chance to learn more about this particular issue.
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Hawk aka BrownDog - June 20, 2012

Hi Y’all,

I’ve been following Lilly’s trials and tribulations long before her disastrous meeting with rabies vaccine. I go to several vets ’cause I live in 2 places and I have a specialist I see when my allergies flair. The specialist uses single 3 year vaccines in all considered necessary for a traveling dog. That way he can give them on different years. He doesn’t like those combo shots. He also does titers if you request before giving the shot.

My regular vet is fine with skipping any shot other than rabies. She doesn’t require the titer, but leaves it up to the owner to decide…at least in our case (allergies).

BrownDog’s Human
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Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi - June 19, 2012

Great informative post. Not only for the risks that you’ll have to live with for Lilly’s status, but also to remind people to get their dog’s vaccinated.
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Jen - June 19, 2012

Do some states nowadays accept a titer in lieu of a vaccine? It seems that I heard that, but of course have no specifics.
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Hilda - June 19, 2012

Rox, thanks for another interesting blog post!

I hope you don’t mind if I comment on this statement:

“Because without treatment, virtually no people survive rabies (there have been a few rare cases of people surviving rabies without treatment).”

No one survives rabies without treatment. The 2 or 3 people who survived an actual case of rabies had VERY AGGRESSIVE TREATMENT. It’s called the Milwaukee Protocol, and it involves putting the patient into a medical coma while anti-inflammatory and anti-viral drugs are administered. Still, the protocol has failed more often than it’s saved a life, and it’s extremely expensive.

The reason people receive a rabies vaccine after a potential exposure is because it’s nearly impossible to survive the disease. The vaccine, administered quickly, prevents rabies from developing.

    Roxanne Hawn - June 19, 2012

    Thanks, Hilda. I meant without vaccines. I’ve revised the paragraph.

Jackie Bouchard - June 19, 2012

Good info to know/share. A lot of folks seem very “eh, no big deal” about not getting vaccines or keeping them up to date.
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Kyla - June 19, 2012

Is it only the rabies vaccine Lilly can’t have, or any vaccine? I’m so sorry that you’re going through all this, but Lilly couldn’t have a better human by her side.

    Roxanne Hawn - June 19, 2012

    Thanks, Kyla. No, it isn’t just rabies. Lilly cannot get ANY vaccine ever again. None. Zip. Nada. It’s just too big of a risk.

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