Rabies Vaccination Requirements for Pets


What is rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease that infects the central nervous system. If this infection of the virus goes untreated it is almost always fatal. All warm-blooded mammals (including humans) are susceptible to the rabies virus. 

Rabies virus is adapted to various animal species which have different versions of the same virus. Wild animals that are known to carry this virus are; coyotes, foxes, skunks, raccoons, and bats. Bats are the only one that we see in Washington state. Although bats are the only animal in Washington to carry the virus, it does not mean it can not be spread to other animals. 

How common is rabies in Washington?

All dogs, cats, and ferrets in Washington must have up-to-date rabies vaccines. If you are a pet owner in Washington, the following information should answer many questions about the required rabies vaccines. 

Seeing bats are Washington’s only source of rabies; it’s rare we have a case of it outside of this species. The last reported case in an animal other than a bat was in 2015. A cat developed rabies after catching a bat. The last reported cases of rabies in a human was 1995 & 1997. Other parts of the world rabies still spreads among the dog population so when these dogs are imported to the U.S it can introduce the rabies virus putting people and pets at risk. In 2007, a puppy imported from another country passed through Washington on its way to another state. It was diagnosed with rabies shortly after arriving at its destination. While the puppy was temporarily housed in Washington, several people were exposed to the puppy.

If so few people get rabies, why do I have to vaccinate my pets?

Every year in Washington, hundreds of people must undergo a series of shots to prevent rabies, called post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP, because they are potentially exposed to the virus. We know from experience that if we control rabies in domestic animals, we can reduce the number of potential human rabies cases. Pets are more likely to contact wild animals, such as bats, that may have rabies. Vaccinating pets is one of the best ways to protect people and pets. By reducing the risk, fewer people will need costly, and stressful, rabies treatment shots.

Why must people receive shots after being exposed to a potentially rabid animal?

Rabies is deadly to people if untreated. We treat people with a series of rabies treatment shots. The shots can stop rabies if given soon after someone is exposed to the virus. In 2015, 244 people in Washington received the shots. The cost for the full series of shots ranges from $1,600 to $5,000. Health insurance often doesn’t cover most of that cost. Prevention measures, such as vaccinating our pets, avoids illness and saves money.

Wouldn’t it just be easier to vaccinate people for rabies?

Preventing rabies from spreading in animals is the best way to protect people. Many wild animals can carry rabies. Fortunately, the only wild animals in Washington that currently carry rabies are bats. Vaccinating pets is an important part of making sure rabies does not become more widespread in other animals in our state. There is a rabies vaccine for people in high-risk occupations, like veterinarians and animal control officers, that is given before being exposed to a potentially rabid animal. It consists of three shots at a cost of about $200 per shot ($600 total). Rabies vaccines for animals cost $7-20 (average cost is $12). The first booster shot is needed after one year, and subsequent boosters typically every three years.

Will I be fined for not having my pets vaccinated?

There is no enforcement at the state level, however the intent of this rule is to educate pet owners about the rabies vaccine and encourage them to protect their pets, themselves, and their families by vaccinating. Any enforcement would come from cities or counties. Some communities already require proof of rabies vaccination in order to get a pet license.

My cat never goes outside, so why would I get a rabies vaccine?

We frequently get reports of bats, which can carry rabies, getting into houses. Cats can get rabies from playing with or killing a rabid bat.

Why should I have my animals vaccinated?

  • Vaccinating pets prevents them from getting rabies and is one of the most effective ways in preventing rabies exposure in people.
  • If your dog, cat, or ferret is not vaccinated, and is bitten by a stray or wild animal, the pet needs to be confined and observed for six months. This strict confinement of a pet could cost a significant amount of money and could harm the animal physiologically. If the pet develops signs of rabies while in confinement, it must be euthanized to be tested for rabies.
  • The health risk, stress, and financial burden of a pet potentially being exposed to rabies are significantly less if the pet is vaccinated. Rabies vaccines for pets are an inexpensive way to protect people and other animals. It is worth spending a few dollars to vaccinate your pet instead of spending thousands of dollars on confinement and the potential tragedy of losing your pet.


If your pet has not received his/her rabies vaccination

Please give us a call at 509-924-4558

to schedule an appointment!

At Heart Arrow We Love Pets!



Thanks to Washington State Department Of Health for portions of this article.