Could Rabies Titers for Dogs Save Lives?

Could Rabies Titers for Dogs Save Lives?

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Could the decision of a group of lawmakers in the state of Delaware save the lives of countless dogs in the coming years? And what does rabies titers for dogs mean for YOU – no matter where you live?

Dachshund at the veterinarian clinic preparing to receive a vaccine or a rabies titer for dogs

Let’s just get this stated at the beginning: I am NOT a veterinarian or pet health professional. And even if I were, I’m not YOUR dog’s health care provider. That’s YOU – along with the guidance of your top-notch veterinarian. YOU are the expert on your dog.

In case you haven’t seen the news, there was some monumental lawmaking going on in the state of Delaware in 2020. It’s the first of its kind in the U.S.

“Maggie’s Vaccine Protection Act, formally known as House Bill 214, unanimously passed in both the Delaware House and Senate, leaving just Gov. John Carney’s signature the last step in making it official. Once signed, veterinarians and pet owners will have the ability to exempt a pet from legally required rabies vaccine if the animal is sick, disabled, injured, or if other medical considerations exist which make vaccination a risk to the animal’s health and life. Instead of a vaccination, a Titer test, which measures a pet’s antibodies to combat rabies, can be used.”

What this means is dogs in Delaware will no longer be required by law to receive a yearly rabies vaccine and instead can be exempt by using a rabies titer test (more on that later.)

I’m celebrating – yay Delaware!!

If you’re wondering why the news is so important to me, it’s because it’s personal.

Deep down to the bone personal.

And to be honest, it hurts to talk about as much as it did 9 years ago.

Let me share my story with you. My story and the story of my sweet, gorgeous, wonderful Duncan.

Collie puppy and two little girls sitting in the grass
Two little girls sitting on a bench in a field with their rough collie next to them.

Because it takes an emotional toll on me to go through the details, I’m simply sharing the story I wrote for another website. And I’m just giving you a heads-up there will be a before-and-after photo at the bottom of the article. It can be heartbreaking for some – so scroll past if you need to.

Duncan came to us as a 14 wk. old AKC rough collie puppy in 2005. I had done extensive research into the health of his breed, and of the dogs from his breeder’s lineage and felt confident that he was healthy and robust. Our problems began at the age of 6 months when he developed periods of explosive diarrhea for several days at a time. It took us nearly 2 years of testing and experimenting to discover he had a sensitivity to wheat, corn and dairy, additives and colorings in his food. My husband finally hit upon the perfect combination of holistic dog food and, after talking to the people at Shirley’s Wellness Café, we changed his drinking water to bottled spring water. The diarrhea stopped immediately and from then on our Duncan was happy, healthy, and energetic.

We knew collies to be particularly sensitive to drugs and now that we knew Duncan was also sensitive to food, we wanted to keep him as minimally vaccinated as possible. He had already completed his puppy vaccinations and received his first rabies vaccine at approximately 1 year. But we were determined not to further vaccinate and to use titers if necessary.

Unfortunately, our state required yearly rabies vaccines, so those were given at a rabies clinic each year. When we did board him for our yearly vacations at a nearby veterinarian clinic, they accepted his rabies certificate as “proof of yearly vaccinations” without questioning which ones he had received. They did insist upon bordetella, however, as did every boarding facility in the area. We felt it was a minimal price to pay for avoiding all the regular “boosters” they might want to push on us, so we did allow them to administer that one.

The year that Duncan turned six, however, began the downfall. He received his yearly rabies at a local rabies clinic and shortly thereafter began to itch and chew his front feet. This was followed with a rapid loss of weight, and increase in appetite and lethargy. He also developed crusty sores on his body, particularly his ears. We worked with him by giving herbal supplements, homeopathy and the probiotics.

Just a few weeks later as he was beginning to show signs of improvement, we took him to his regular boarding facility. This time, they told us they had examined our records more fully and could not accept him for boarding unless we could provide proof of a DA2PP and bordetella. We tried to explain that he was just getting over a reaction to his rabies vaccine, but were told he could not stay without the vaccines being administered while he was there. As we were literally walking out the door for our departure, we had no choice but to accept the vaccines or cancel the vacation.

Those vaccines were the limit of what his immune system could process. When we returned in 6 days, Duncan seemed none the worse. But after a few days home, the intense itching returned, along with profound hair loss. He had what I term ‘anxiety attacks,’ more weight loss, excessive thirst and began to lose his balance. A few weeks later his eyesight began to fail and he became incontinent.

After a detailed consultation, we began working with a pro-biotic regime with …but it was too late. Duncan’s systems were just shutting down one by one and by late December he was gone.

Two images of healthy sable rough collie and same collie after suffering vaccinosis rabies titers for dogs
Only a few months separate these photos.

I have to tell you in all honesty that I still feel guilt over this. After all, I am the one who said “yes” to the vaccines. If I had only known what the next few months would have been like… It was excruciatingly painful to watch and feel helpless, trying everything that could be thought of and seeing that nothing worked…

I miss my big doggie so much.

So I’d like to think in some way, Duncan’s experience can change the lives and the health of other dogs. And keep more dogs happy, healthy and leading long lives with their families.

What do I want you to take home from this?

Two super important things:

  • Be your dog’s advocate. You know your own dog through and through; what’s normal behavior/physical condition and when something is off. Find the best gosh-darn veterinarian who will work with you and your dog.
  • Support legislation that removes the requirement for ALL dogs to be re-vaccinated yearly.

So let’s jump right in and answer some questions I am asked a lot. We’re going to drill down and talk about only one vaccine (rabies) for now.

Well, we do have the rabies virus present here in the United States. Are you saying I should never vaccinate my dog for rabies?

Simple answer: I am not saying that at all. The rabies virus is a ruthless, cruel and fatal disease. Yet, it is a rare disease and one not easily contracted. It must be spread through a bite or scratch from an infected animal. By U.S. state laws every dog must be vaccinated for rabies yearly. But – the vaccine itself has been shown to produce adverse reactions in many animals, including cats.

So what problems could develop from my dog’s yearly rabies vaccine?

Complications, both acute and chronic, are astounding! Sometimes reactions are immediate and sometimes they take years to fully manifest. And after such a long period, most owners do not make the connection between the illness and the vaccines. There are many, many studies and articles you can read for further details. Adverse reactions can be:

  • Anaphylactic shock
  • Skin conditions
  • Tumors at the injection site
  • Auto-immune diseases
  • Behavioral changes
  • Seizures/epilepsy
  • Allergies
  • So many more…

Importantly: dogs who are exceptionally sensitive, in poor health or going through the stress of a surgical procedure should NEVER receive a vaccination.

Are there any breeds that are more susceptible than others?

All dogs are individuals and react differently to different things. Going off of anecdotal reports shows many herding breeds like border collies and Australian Shepherds have reported adverse reactions to rabies vaccines. These same breeds are clinically known to be sensitive to many medications due to the MDR1 gene mutation if present.

Also – get this: the same amount of vaccine is given to small dogs as to large. So your 14 lb Pug is getting the exact same dosage as a 110 lb Great Dane – without consideration of body weight! That’s why smaller dogs report more reactions.

So if I want to avoid any adverse health issues, what should I do?

Once your dog has been vaccinated for any disease, you can request your veterinarian draw blood for a titer test.

What are titers?

Rabies titers for dogs are blood tests to see if your pet has developed antibodies to the disease they were immunized against. The simple answer is if your dog shows a positive result, then he has developed immunity to the disease.

How long does immunity last my dog?

If the antibodies are present in your dog’s blood, then she should have immunity for many years – and maybe her whole life! More vaccinations do not increase your dog’s immunity. Either she has it or she doesn’t.

Then why would my dog need to have a yearly booster?

Because for many years, laws in all 50 states have made that a requirement. That’s all.

That said, there is a little more technicalities that need to be considered. Immunity is an amazing thing our bodies (dogs, too) develop. I’m not going to go all scienc-y on you. There are numerous science-based articles to explain how it works. Before you schedule that next yearly booster though, make sure you read up on how your dog’s immune system really operates!

You love your doggo. So if your dog received a vaccination and you observe ANYTHING out of the ordinary, document it and talk with your veterinarian. If you don’t get an answer or attitude you like, move on. Find a pet health care pro who will listen to you.

No reaction should be considered ‘normal.’ These types of signals are warnings. Many times a strong immune system can recover from these reactions. But a lowered immune system will not be able to combat the effects. And over time, the effects will add up.

Once rabies titers for dogs becomes the norm for all 50 states, you can make an informed (and legal) choice about what is best for your dog.

I know you get this. We talk about staying healthy ourselves ALL THE TIME. We obsess over the food we eat, the exercise we get, the stress we want to reduce.

The same principles apply to your dog. If you want your pupper to live a long, healthy, active life with a strong immune system, give her:

  • A fresh, natural diet with whole foods in a wide variety
  • Clean, pure untreated water
  • Plenty of fresh air, exercise and mental stimulation
  • A stress-free environment to live and play
  • Love
  • Plus… a health care provider who believes in health, wellness and will give you options for the best care when needed.

And please – for Duncan’s sake – support legislation in whatever state you live. Let lawmakers know you want them to make the best decision that will help pets lead healthy, long lives.

Collie puppy lying on a red mat and holding a water bottle in his mouth.
Duncan says “Thanks! Don’t forget me.”

Congrats, Delaware on a job well done!

I cannot possibly list all the resources available on vaccines, immunity, drug reactions, etc. You know how to Google. But here are a few to get you started.

Dr. Jean Dodds, DVM and the new Vaccination Protocol

Dr. William Falconer, DVM – website with lots of info on raising a healthy pet.

Keep this post on hand – Pin to your favorite board.

Pinterest Pin for post on Rabies Vaccine Titers

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  1. I strongly advocate for titer testing. Just like you and your sweet Duncan, we have our own horrific story. Or little guy only weighed 5 pounds – and the damage the vaccinations did were horrific. I feel guilt too – I can relate. I am so glad Delaware passed legislation in this matter and that you are helping to spread the word. Thank you for sharing your (painful) story – you have an ally in this fight!

  2. I’m sorry to read about Duncan! My 11 year old dog has food and environmental allergies, thankfully thus far he’s never experienced a vaccine reaction. I’ve been lucky to live in states that legally require rabies boosters every 3 years rather than yearly, and have gone to vets who happily titer test for the other core vaccines, so throughout his life I’ve been able to keep my boy on as minimal a vaccine schedule as possible. It sounds like this potential new rule in Delaware is at least a step in the right direction! I hope other states follow suite, although I do really wish they’d do the research needed to extend the time between boosters for all dogs, rather than just accepting titers for dogs who are of ill health. We can hope, at least.

  3. If I want to take Layla to dog parks she has to have her rabies shot, but she gets it every three years BUT I am blessed to have an amazing vet who does not push the other vaccinations on her as she is over 12 years old and as my vet said, if she gets sick there are antibiotics so we do not do any vaccines anymore. With the rabies unfortunately I cannot get away from it.

  4. A desperate story and we should be grateful for your courage in telling to help other dogs. You really have packed in so much information and surely this will save lives,, people need to know a test can be a help. Maybe you should make your post into a pdf too)

    I am sorry for what happened to Duncan. It is just so damned unfair.

  5. Carla Mathis


    Thank you for sharing this. I would like to advocate in Tennessee to change the law to accept a titer test for rabies. Can you share advice on where to begin?

    Thank you!

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