Compiled by Stephen Hull MS, PhD
Here are some comments from our seminars where we talk about the rabies vaccine and other vaccinations:
- The rabies vaccine MUST be given by a veterinarian in order for you to have legal protection. In many states (not all), you can buy the rabies vaccine “over the counter" at many farm stores with no prior veterinary prescription. But in the event of rabies exposure, your county health people will NOT recognize your non-vet, self-administered rabies vaccine administration (yes, even with receipts, etc).
- The older rabies vaccines were known to cause reactions. Even with recent improvements, the rabies vaccine still remains a "hot" vaccine. This means that it has more potential to cause post shot reactions compared to "cold" vaccines (the CD&T combination, for example, is considered a cold vaccine for alpacas/llamas). However, giving a hot vaccine and a cold one within hours can cause more reactions than either given alone. For this reason, never allow your vet to administer the rabies vaccine and a CD&T (or Leptospirosis or West Nile or whatever vaccine) at the same time (unless they want to hang around for an hour afterwards). The vast majority of acute vaccinosis reactions are often apparent, within minutes, of giving the rabies vaccine with another different vaccine. You can always give the other non-rabies vaccine several days later. Always, always watch your animal after giving any vaccine, but always observe after a "hot" vaccine, as sometimes it takes thirty minutes or so for the acute symptoms to flare up.
- There is no "one recommendation" for the rabies vaccine. Across the country, the rabies exposure risk from wild animals simply varies too much. You must look at your county/state data and make up your mind together with your vet's input. For example, rabies is highly endemic in some areas of the southeast USA, and ills virtually absent in others. One recommendation for all geographical areas is foolish as the rabies vaccine does cause reactions. But in rabies endemic areas, you MUST vaccinate! Your vet will know your area's risk.
- If your alpaca/llama sees a rabid skunk/raccoon/bat/whatever, its natural curiosity leads it right up to that animal. They often "nose" the animal and resultantly get bit on the nose, lip or legs. Rabid alpacas/llamas can act "furious" (like dogs) or "dumb" (like cows). Not all drool. One symptom of rabies is observing a clearly nocturnal wild animal wandering about in the bright daylight, oblivious to other animals/people. Some infected animals do not show symptoms. For example, skunks carry rabies and do not show symptoms until very late in the disease. In the meantime, they can pass this disease to offspring during pregnancy.
- When people call me about a wandering and "dazed looking" raccoon/skunk in the daylight, I immediately advise calling animal control, as this is likely rabies. They will likely shoot the rabid looking animal. They will not trap it. In most areas, animal control simply does not have the resources to confirm rabies on every suspected wild animal. If a suspected animal bites a person, then the expensive confirmation test is always done. If animal control cannot get there immediately, then you need to deal with this. Do NOT let this very likely rabid animal wander away to later return and potentially bite one of your livestock, dogs or cats, your neighbor's animals (or you!). I dislike guns, but I have one for this very purpose.
- Alpacas/llamas get rabies. This is clearly documented. Rabies is spread by saliva and our camelid friends have a way of projecting this. Consider your liability for farm visitors.
- The only way to confirm rabies is to cut off the suspected animal's head, get a small slice of brain tissue, use specific stains and look for cellular Negri inclusions under the microscope. There is NO other test. If your county suspects rabies in your animal, they have the right to quarantine your animal at your farm, off your farm (at your cost) and sadly (if symptoms persist), to kill your animal. This latter issue is rare but it does happen. Most often, you are told to quarantine your animal on your property (14 to 30 days depending).
- There are one-year rabies vaccines and three-year rabies vaccines (both under the IMRAB and RABVAC labels) from two different vaccine manufacturers. Each drug company makes their one and three year vaccines from the same specific company batch. The three-year lots are just tested for efficacy at three years and thus cost more due to the longer testing, time, etc. Thus, the three-year tests show that the vaccine works at three years so it can he labeled as such (RABVAC-3 or IMRAB-3).
- Some states/counties with endemic wildlife rabies insist on rabies vaccination every single year. Many animal health experts feel that this is too frequent for alpacas/llamas. We prefer every three years. The principal reason for the yearly vaccination protocol is to insure that a large percentage of the animal population gets rabies immunizations.
- There are blood antibodies that can be tested to show that the rabies vaccine protection remains. Several dog/cat studies show that rabies vaccine protection exists for at least five years after injection. Some states/counties will accept blood antibody results and others will not.
- The use of the rabies vaccine (and every other veterinary drug) for alpacas/llamas is considered a legal "off label" use. Off label means that there is no legal documentation of efficacy. This does NOT mean that the vaccine/drug/treatment does not work; rather, it simply means that in the case of an adverse reaction or lack of protection, there is no legal recourse against the vaccine manufacturer and/or vet. This off-label descriptor is typically a legal issue, not necessarily a pharmacological concern.
- Rabies vaccination is not just for protection of your pet. Rather, it is a public health issue, as people get rabies from rabid animals (zoonotic disease). This sounds strange, but your vet is actually licensed to protect the public by immunizing/treating animals. This is a legal issue and gets back to the reason why only licensed vets can verify that a rabies vaccine has been properly administered.
I suggest that you print this off, and discuss this with your local vet. He/she has the best perspective for protection of your animals (as well as you!) and, together you must make the decision that is best for your animals in YOUR area.