Research shows that the management of dogs and cats exposed to a rabid or potentially rabid animal should be the same for pets with current and with out-of-date rabies vaccination status.
Current recommendations in the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control state that unvaccinated dogs and cats be quarantined for 6 months or euthanized if exposed to a rabid or potentially rabid animal, while those with current in-date rabies vaccination status should be administered a rabies booster and observed for 45 days, usually under the owner’s supervision. Recommendations for dogs and cats with out-of-date rabies status (i.e., overdue for rabies vaccination) is evaluated on a case by case basis. However, out of an overabundance of caution, the recommendations for unvaccinated dogs and cats are usually followed in animals with out-of-date vaccination status. Thus, many of these animals are euthanized.
Research conducted at the Kansas State University demonstrates that the immune response to a rabies vaccine booster in dogs and cats with out-of-date vaccination status is no worse than the response in dogs and cats with a current rabies vaccination status. In fact, dogs and cats with an out-of-date rabies vaccination status often had a higher median titer (i.e., better response) following booster vaccination compared with dogs whose rabies vaccination status was current!
It is hoped that this new information will lead to a change in recommendations for the management of dogs and cats with out-of-date rabies status who are exposed to a rabid or potentially rabid animal.
There is an interesting aside to this research. When queried, the rabies vaccine manufacturer confirmed that the 1- and 3-year rabies vaccines are identical. Therefore, in this study dogs and cats who had received either the 1- or 3-year rabies vaccine where classified as having current vaccination status if the vaccine was administered <3 years prior to enrollment in the study.
You can read the entire study (Moore, et al. Comparison of anamnestic responses to rabies vaccination in dogs and cats with current and out-of-date vaccination status. JAVMA. 2015;246(2):205-211) at http://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/pdf/10.2460/javma.246.2.205
Many pet owners have concerns with the required frequency of rabies vaccine administration. The Rabies Challenge fund is a charitable trust that is conducting research to document the duration of protection for the rabies vaccine, with the goal of extending the legally required interval for rabies boosters. Click here for more information. http://abbeyrosefoundation.org/what-is-the-rabies-challenge-fund/