World Rabies Day 2012 – Insights After a Near-Deadly Adverse Rabies Vaccine Reaction

Today is World Rabies Day, which is meant to “raise awareness about the impact of human and animal rabies, how easy it is to prevent it, and how to eliminate the main global sources.” Nine months into a life / death struggle following Lilly’s severe adverse rabies vaccine reaction, I look at things a bit differently.

People often ask if this experience has made me anti-vaccine. The short answer to that question is NO!

I do, however, believe that canine vaccine protocols need to be revisited and reformed to allow for longer intervals between vaccines. Visit The Rabies Challenge Fund, for more information. I also believe that states should allow for medical waivers when necessary for certain pets. For example, California recently passed a law allowing medical waivers for rabies vaccines. 

best dog blog, copyright champion of my heart, border collie in veterinary hospital cageIf Lilly manages to survive until 2015, when the rabies vaccine that caused this long, expensive situation “expires,” Colorado does allow for a medical waiver.

As I’ve noted before, that’s all fine … assuming Lilly never bites anyone and assuming she is never exposed to rabid wildlife. NOT vaccinating a dog is still a big, big deal. 

Though as we’ve learned from other cases of dogs with valid rabies vaccine status, sometimes, that isn’t “enough.” … if a pet is exposed to rabies.

I really do understand the risks of rabies in the world at large. I really do understand so-called “population medicine” that puts the protection of many above the risks of a few. 

I fully admit that this health crisis for Lilly is a “first-world” problem.

And, yet, here I am … hoping against all odds that Lilly will really recover. It’s easy for dog people like us to focus ONLY on dog health when it comes to rabies, but this quote from a veterinarian in Virginia offers a different perspective:

“Vaccinated dogs and cats provide an important barrier between where rabies is typical found — in the wild — and people.”

Yes, we want to protect our pets from rabies, but the REAL purpose of rabies vaccinations in pets is to protect people. Our dogs (and cats) stand on the front lines — or sniff around them, as the case may be.

Pets protect us, in more ways than we know.

Still, people, in general, should be worried because it turns out there is a SHORTAGE of the post-rabies-exposure vaccines used for people. That can’t be good, if you live somewhere with high potential exposure.

I continue to tell our story … not because I want to scare people away from vaccines. I tell our story because I didn’t know something this serious was even possible. 

As I’ve said in various spots, including our 5-part adverse vaccine reaction FAQ, if you know ANY pet who has had ANY kind of adverse vaccine reaction — no matter how seemingly minor — please, please, please advise the family to talk to their veterinarian about the potential serious risks of future vaccinations … not just for rabies, but for anything.


If you are new to our story, feel free to use the blog post category pull-down menu in the sidebar or this Adverse Vaccine Reaction category link to access all the posts we’ve published since Lilly got very, very sick with meningoencephalo-myelitis (inflammation of the brain and lining of the brain and spinal cord) after an adverse reaction to a rabies vaccine given January 23, 2012. We’re working VERY hard to help her fully recover from both her cognitive and neurological deficits. She had been doing well, with a strong prognosis until a massive relapse in August 2012. Now, her prognosis is unknown. 

We are trying a new treatment and are hopeful, but realistic. 


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.

Brette Sember - October 2, 2012

I didn’t know about any of this until this happened to Lilly. Thanks for educating us.

KB - September 29, 2012

Very very good advice. My vet routinely ignores the need for *any* vaccines in elderly dogs. She says that there’s sufficient immunity built up from a lifetime of vaccines, and that the risk of complications (e.g., an infection while the immune system is “distracted” by the vaccine, or even a tumor suddenly growing really fast) is just too high.

BTW, I’d never leave a sarcastic comment about a dog who I care about as much as Lily. I was truly impressed by your video. You are so good to Lilly and she’s come such a long way!

    Roxanne Hawn - September 29, 2012

    Thanks, KB. That’s what’s so hard about this LAST vaccine Lilly got. I was really thinking it would be her LAST one, either way. And, I didn’t think your FB note was sarcastic … I just didn’t know if it was a sad wow or not. Since you are one of few readers who has actually known and seen Lilly in her prime, I knew you would understand how big her neuro deficits are. It breaks my heart. I’m fairly certain she will never be “herself” again, but I try hard to remember how far she has come.

Jen - September 28, 2012

We had a bat in the house a few months back, and the fiance was worried about Elka. I reminded him that SHE was the one who was vaccinated….he should worry about us!

Vicki Cook - September 28, 2012

Rox – I’m so sorry that Lilly had an adverse reaction to her rabies shot. She is such a sweet girl, and I continue to send love and healing vibes to you both!

Susan T - September 28, 2012

Thanks for this great post, Roxanne. What a dilemma. I hope vaccine intervals will be extended as a result of the Rabies Challenge study. If warm winters and hot summers contribute to an increase in rabies cases, I think we’d better be prepared to see a lot more exposures to rabid animals. The shortages of both pre- and post-exposure vaccines are scary! Some of the things the CDC suggests for avoiding exposure are kind of silly: “avoid wildlife contact.” Anyone who goes outdoors has a potential for wildlife contact. Most cases I’ve heard about involved rabid animals attacking people out of the blue.

As always, I’m wishing the best for you and Lilly and hope she makes a full recovery.

Sam - September 28, 2012

Sam had an adverse reaction to his canine flu vaccine a few years back – he was pretty sick for almost three months and did recover. We don’t give him that anymore, although we still give it to Monty.

Thinking of Lilly and sending positive thoughts her way.


Sue at Talking Dogs - September 28, 2012

Excellent post. We live in a very rural area of the Missouri Ozarks and rabies is an issue. Luckily our dogs have never shown any reaction to their vaccinations. It’s a rock and a hard place, isn’t it, for dog owners.

Sheryl - September 28, 2012

Lilly continues to be in my thoughts. So sorry you are dealing with this.

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