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How Often Do Dogs Need Rabies Shots? A Clear Guide to Rabies Vaccinations

dog rabies shots

You’ve vaccinated your puppy against rabies, but how often do dogs need rabies shots? Rabies is a deadly virus that can be transmitted to humans, making it crucial to vaccinate your dog against it. Also, it is illegal to live with a dog not vaccinated against rabies in many areas.

It’s crucial to keep your dog up-to-date on their rabies vaccine to protect them and yourself. Keeping up with your dog’s vaccines is just as essential as other routine maintenance like proper nutrition, exercise, brushing and using dental rinses, and canine-wipe ear cleaning.

By staying on top of your dog’s vaccine schedule and working with your veterinarian, you can ensure your furry friend remains healthy and happy for years to come. Several expert sources advise this article, like Bill Wasik’s Rabid.

Few things are scarier than rabies. It is said to be the closest thing to the zombie virus because it affects the brain and has adapted to influence the host’s behavior to get what it wants. Also, there’s practically no way to help the affected once they show symptoms.

Luckily, it’s pretty rare, especially in the US, thanks to the widespread vaccination. It is important to note that the first rabies vaccine given to a dog is only effective for one year. After that, the frequency of vaccination may reduce.

If a dog has an adverse reaction to a rabies vaccine, the owner should consult a veterinarian to determine if alternativ-e-archive vaccination protocols are necessary. Additionally, if a dog is exposed to a rabid animal, the owner should consult a veterinarian to determine if a booster vaccine is necessary.

Also see:

Why is My Dog Shaking after Shots?

Can Dogs Get Parvo Twice?

Understanding Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system of mammals. It is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, usually through a bite. The virus attacks the brain and spinal cord, causing inflammation and ultimately leading to death.

Rabies explained in a nutshell is enough to trigger a panic attack. It essentially melts the brain. As the virus eats at the amygdala, the host experiences severe fear and anxiety. Hallucinations set in as the virus burrows into the thalamus, almost like seeing sounds and tasting smells. 

Also, the virus causes hydrophobia (fear of water) and severe dehydration. So, all the dog wants to do is drink water but can’t. It is also practically undetectable until symptoms start, after which follows 100% fatality. The virus also spreads through saliva, which is why we associate it with dogs foaming at the mouth and becoming aggressive and trying to bite.

Enough of the fear-mongering because the saving grace is that vaccines exist, even for humans, both pre and post-exposure (PEP). You can now see why not vaccinating a pet is illegal in most countries. 

The frequency of rabies vaccinations for dogs depends on various factors, including the dog’s age, location, and risk of exposure to the virus. Generally, puppies should receive their first rabies vaccine between 12 and 16 weeks old, with boosters given every one to three years after that.

In some areas, dogs must receive rabies vaccinations more frequently. For example, dogs may be required to receive vaccines every year in areas where rabies is more common. You must check with your veterinarian and local regulations to determine the appropriate vaccination schedule for your dog.

In addition to keeping your dog up-to-date on rabies vaccinations, it is vital to take other steps to prevent exposure to the virus. This may include keeping your dog on a leash in public, avoiding contact with wild animals, and reporting any bites or scratches to your veterinarian or local health department.

Rabies Vaccination for Dogs

First Vaccination

Puppies should receive their first rabies vaccination between 12-16 weeks of age. The vaccine is usually given as a single dose and is effective for one year. It is important to note that puppies cannot be fully protected until two weeks after their first vaccination.

Booster Shots

After the initial vaccination, dogs require one booster shot a year later to maintain immunity. The frequency of booster shots may vary depending on the state law or country’s regulations. Generally, booster shots are given every 1-3 years, depending on the vaccine used and the dog.

It is vital to keep your dog’s rabies vaccination up-to-date to protect them against this deadly disease. Failure to vaccinate your dog against rabies can result in severe consequences, including legal penalties and the potential for euthanasia if your dog bites someone.

Factors Affecting Rabies Vaccination Frequency

Studies show that age, health, and lifestyle determine the need for rabies vaccine frequency. 


The first rabies shot is usually given at 12 to 16 weeks of age, followed by a booster shot one year later. After that, puppies must receive a rabies shot every one to three years, depending on the vaccine used and local regulations.

Adult Dogs

Adult dogs that have received their initial series of rabies vaccinations as puppies will need to receive booster shots to maintain their immunity. However, even those that hadn’t received a shot yet, or whose owners aren’t sure of their vaccination status can receive the first vaccine at any age.

Local Regulations and Laws

Rabies vaccination requirements can vary by location. Some regions have strict laws mandating annual rabies boosters, while others permit longer intervals between shots. Compliance with local regulations is a significant determinant.

The American Veterinary Medical Association gives this chart for dog vaccination laws by state.

Some states that require annual vaccinations or a rabies vaccines at least once every three years after their initial vaccinations, include:

  • Arizona;
  • California; 
  • D.C.;
  • Florida;
  • New Jersey;
  • New Mexico;
  • North Carolina; and
  • Tennessee.

Note that most states specify that dogs need to stay on a vaccine schedule in accordance with the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control. Veterinarians can also give rabies certificates if you need to prove your dog is vaccinated to cross state lines.

Vaccine Type and Manufacturer

Different rabies vaccines might have varying durations of immunity. Some vaccines provide protection for one year, while others are labeled for three years. The vaccine’s manufacturer guidelines play a role in determining how often a dog should receive shots.

Risk of Exposure

Dogs more likely to encounter rabies vectors (such as wildlife or other potentially rabid animals) may require more frequent vaccinations.

Dog’s Health Status

A dog’s health status is an essential factor in determining the frequency of rabies vaccinations. Dogs with compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions may require more frequent vaccinations to maintain immunity. 

Potential Side Effects of Rabies Vaccination

Rabies vaccination is generally safe for dogs and has been used for many years to prevent the spread of rabies. However, like any other vaccine, there are potential side effects that pet owners should be aware of.

Some of the most common side effects of rabies vaccination in dogs include:

  • Mild fever;
  • Lethargy;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Swelling and redness at the injection site; and
  • Mild allergic reactions such as hives or itching.

In rare cases, more serious side effects can occur, such as:

  • Anaphylaxis (a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction);
  • Seizures;
  • Neurological disorders; and
  • Autoimmune diseases.

It’s important to note that the risk of severe side effects is very low, and the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. However, if you notice any unusual symptoms in your dog after vaccination, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Also see:

How long is Kennel Cough Contagious?

Importance of Regular Vet Check-ups for Dogs

Regular vet check-ups are essential for the overall health and well-being of dogs. During these check-ups, the vet can examine the dog and identify potential health concerns. This includes checking for signs of rabies and ensuring the dog is up-to-date on their vaccinations.

In addition to preventing rabies, regular vet check-ups can also help detect other health issues early on. This can include dental problems, skin conditions, and even cancer. Early detection can lead to more effective treatment and a better prognosis for the dog.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should dogs receive rabies vaccinations?

Dogs should receive their first rabies vaccination at 12-16 weeks. After the initial vaccination, dogs should receive a booster shot one year later. The frequency of subsequent vaccinations depends on the laws of the state where the dog resides and the type of vaccine used.

What is the recommended schedule for rabies shots in dogs?

The recommended schedule for rabies shots in dogs varies depending on the vaccine used and the laws of the state where the dog presides. Generally, dogs receive their first rabies vaccination at 12-16 weeks of age, followed by a booster shot one year later. Subsequent vaccinations may be required every one to three years.

How long does a rabies vaccine last for dogs?

The duration of immunity for rabies vaccines in dogs varies depending on the vaccine used and the laws of the state where the dog presides. Some vaccines provide immunity for one year, while others for three years.

Is it necessary to vaccinate dogs against rabies every year?

The frequency of rabies vaccinations for dogs depends on the laws of the state where the dog resides and the type of vaccine used. Some states require annual vaccinations, while others require vaccinations every three years. It is important to follow the state’s laws where the dog resides to ensure compliance with local regulations.

Why do some states require annual rabies vaccinations for dogs?

Some states require annual dog rabies vaccinations to protect the dog against the rabies virus. These laws are in place to protect both the dog and the human population from the potentially deadly consequences of rabies.

At what age can dogs stop receiving rabies vaccinations?

Rabies vaccinations never end. Even senior dogs need their rabies vaccines every 3 years to maintain immunity. 

Final Thoughts

Keeping your dog up-to-date on rabies vaccinations is crucial for their health and safety. Not only is it required by law in most states, but it also protects your dog from contracting the deadly virus and potentially passing it on to other animals or humans. Dogs need their first rabies vaccine at 14 to 16 weeks, a booster one year later, and booster shots every year or three years.


Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

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