Rabies shots are required by law across the United States, and it benefits both you and your dog that he gets them as required. If he doesn’t, not only are you breaking the law, but also your story could have an ending sad enough to rival that of “Old Yeller.”
Rabies is a deadly viral disease that’s typically spread by the bite of an infected animal, though it can also be transmitted through a scratch or, in some cases, just by virus-filled saliva making contact with a mucous membrane or open wound. The disease is preventable but not curable, and once symptoms show up it is always fatal. Vaccinating dogs against rabies helps to minimize the chances of humans contracting the disease, though according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals about 50,000 people around the world still die of it every year.
The city, county or state in which you live mandates when your puppy should get his first rabies shot. In some areas puppies must be vaccinated against rabies when they are three months old, but in many places the law doesn’t require the first shots until he’s four months of age, and in some locations puppies can even wait until they are six months old. To find out the requirements in your area, ask your vet or call the local animal control office.
A booster shot works to keep the body’s defenses against rabies as effective as possible. Without boosters, immunity provided by the initial shot can wane, and eventually the dog will no longer have resistance to the disease. Once a puppy has had his first shot, he needs a rabies booster a year later to ensure that his system develops and maintains a strong immune response to the rabies virus. The year-long interval between your puppy’s first shot and his first booster is consistent across all states.
Local law dictates the frequency of your dog’s rabies shots after his first booster. In some areas dogs must be vaccinated annually, in the hopes that giving the vaccine more often will result in a higher level of immunity and resistance to the disease. In other places, such as Arizona, lawmakers have determined that there’s no evidence to prove that giving shots more often provides any more protection than waiting the maximum allowable time, so dogs in these places only need a rabies shot once every three years.