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Why is the rabies vaccination important before international pet travel?

Pet parents who have moved to a different country with their pet dogs and cats know that one of the first requirements of international pet travel is the rabies vaccination. Cats and dogs must have current and valid rabies vaccination before travelling. International pet import regulations usually differ from country to country, and these rules changes are almost always because of the rabies status of the country of origin.

Some rabies-free countries such as Australia and New Zealand have strict biosecurity laws to prevent the introduction and spread of rabies in the country. It is therefore more challenging for pet cats and dogs from countries where rabies is prevalent to travel to rabies-free countries.

Read on to understand all about rabies and why the vaccination is so important before international pet travel.

What is rabies? 

Rabies is a dangerous zoonotic disease, and all around the world efforts are on to contain and eradicate the disease. Every year more than 60,000 people die of rabies, usually from dog bites. Wild animals like raccoons, bats, foxes, wolves, skunks are also known to transmit rabies. It is caused by a virus and spreads from animal to animal and animal to humans through the saliva of an infected animal through bites. It is usually fatal as there are no antiviral drugs to cure the disease.

Why is rabies so feared? Rabies spreads from mammal to mammal quickly, and though it can be treated immediately after exposure, it is usually fatal once the symptoms start to develop. Even a small bite or a scratch is enough to break the skin and let the virus into the bloodstream. Cats and dogs can pick up the virus if they are exposed to wildlife or from other pets. The virus is known to infect all mammals and is almost always fatal.

It is required by law in most countries to vaccinate both cats and dogs against rabies. Vets recommend the rabies vaccine even if the dog or cat is an indoor-only pet.

Rabies vaccination course for cats and dogs

The rabies vaccine protects dogs and cats from developing the disease if they have been exposed to the virus. It is a core vaccine and is mandatory in most countries globally to vaccinate your pets against rabies. Here is the schedule most commonly followed by vets around the world:

  • Dogs– Puppies can only recieve a rabies vaccination at three (3) calendar months old to receive the first dose of the rabies vaccine. This is called the primary dose, and the second dose of the vaccine is given after three (3) years of the primary vaccination. Subsequent doses are known as booster doses.
  • Cats– Kittens can only recieve a rabies vaccination at three (3) calendar months old to receive the first dose of the rabies vaccine. This is called the primary dose, and the second dose of the vaccine is given after three (3) years of the primary vaccination. Subsequent doses are known as booster doses.

How does the rabies vaccine work?

The rabies vaccine works just like most vaccines; a small amount of the virus is injected into the body of the pet to induce an immune reaction. The vaccine consists of an altered or inactive version of the virus; it will not cause the disease but will invoke an immune response to create antibodies that fight the disease. Since the rabies vaccine uses an inactive version of the virus, the immune response deteriorates over time. That is why your pet dog or cat will need multiple shots of the vaccine to protect them against the virus. Hence, the need for booster shots every year or three years, depending on the vaccine.

What is the rabies antibody titre test?

The rabies titre test (rabies neutralising antibody test) measures the effectiveness of the rabies vaccine by checking for the presence of antibodies in the blood. When your pet receives the rabies vaccine, they produce antibodies as an immune response to the vaccine. These antibodies help protect your pet from the disease. The RNAT test measures the level of antibodies in the blood to check if your pet is sufficiently immunised against the virus.

The sample for the test is usually drawn about 30 days after the pet is vaccinated. This test is significant for pets travelling from countries where rabies is prevalent to a rabies-free country. An antibody level of 0.5 IU/ml or more suggests that your pet has been adequately immunised against the virus.

Why does my pet need the rabies vaccine before international travel?

Though rabies is a fatal zoonotic disease, it is easily preventable with vaccines and immediate post-exposure treatment. Once the symptoms set in, it is nearly impossible to treat the disease. The rabies vaccination and the titre test are essential for international pet travel; it prevents the spread of the virus and keeps your pet and other local animals safe and healthy.

Most countries insist on a waiting period of 21 to 30 days after the rabies vaccination before travel. This is because it takes that long for the antibodies to develop and protect your pet. Similarly, many countries have a waiting period of 180 days after the sampling for the rabies titre test to ensure your pet is adequately immunised before travelling.

The rabies vaccine is also necessary because no country is entirely immune to the risk of rabies; even pets in rabies-free countries have a small chance of contracting the disease when exposed to wildlife and unvaccinated pets.

Travelling abroad? Call the international pet specialists

There is much more to international pet travel than a rabies vaccination; your pet must undergo health tests, vaccinations, and have the right documentation to be able to travel to a different country. Every country has unique pet import regulations, and your pet must satisfy all criteria to be able to enter the country.

If you are planning to a different country with your pet dog or cat, get in touch with the team at Petraveller for more information on the rabies vaccination and other pet import regulations.