Clinical Signs
Treatment and Prevention
If you Suspect Exposure
Vaccines and Protocols
Distribution in Western Canada

Vaccines and Protocols

Requirement for travel:  Preparation for travel with your pet to other countries often takes months or longer.  This is because vaccination protocols are often extensive and must be carefully followed.  In addition, prior to any vaccination, pets must be identifiable using an approved identification method set by each country (microchipping for example)(12).  Following vaccination, pets must also be checked for adequate titer levels.  If procedures are not carefully followed the pet may be refused entry or may have to be quarantined.  For diseases such as rabies, which have a significantly prolonged incubation period, quarantine time may be quite extensive.  The result is prolonged separation from pets.  In addition, any costs involved with quarantining the animal are the responsibility of the owner.  For this reason, it is strongly recommended that owners adequately prepare for any export with pets.  Each country has different requirements.  Visit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) website at http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/anima/heasan/export/exporte.shtml for further details on specific countries.  Note that these steps must be followed in a specific order and usually require cooperation with your veterinarian. 

Commonly Encountered Export Requirements (16):  Countries often require that pets be identified with a country-approved microchip prior to any applicable vaccination.  This is an attempt to ensure that the animal listed in the vaccination certification papers is the same animal that is being brought into the country.  Some countries may accept a clearly readable tattoo as animal identification.  After the animal has been properly identified, documented vaccination can be done.  A veterinarian must perform the vaccination(s).  Countries often require that a certain type of vaccine be used (often inactivated vaccines see the Type of Vaccine section below for further information).  Health certificates must be carefully filled out.  Improperly completed certificates may result in refusal of admission of an animal into the country.  Specific forms may have to be collected from the country you are traveling to and filled out prior to departure.  Be sure to check the length of time that the health certificate will be considered valid after it is issued.    Countries often require that blood work be performed to check titer levels within a specified time frame after vaccination and prior to arrival.  This is to ensure that the animals are adequately protected and therefore unlikely to be carrying disease.  It is important to ensure that the titer levels match what is considered to be adequate in the country you will be traveling to.  This level may vary with the country.

Import to
Canada (17): Animals may be imported
into Canada without quarantine provided that they follow import rules.  These rules vary depending on the rabies disease status of the exporting country.  Specific rules may apply for different species and for
certain ages of animal.  In general, animals younger
than three months old do not require vaccination against rabies or certification in order to enter Canada.  For species-specific information and to check the disease status of each export country, please visit http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/anima/heasan/import/petse.shtml

Titers:  In order to get an idea of how well protected the body is against rabies, a titer is analyzed.  This measures levels of molecules in the blood, called antibodies.  Antibodies are produced by the body in response to either vaccination or exposure (ex. from infection) to a virus or other pathogen.  Cells in the body bind to and analyze specific molecules (called antigens) present on the pathogen (in the case of rabies the pathogen is a virus) and responds by stimulating the production of specific proteins (antibodies).  These antibodies are specially designed to inactivate the pathogen (called neutralization).  Measurement of the amount of antibody in the blood is referred to as a titer.  The level of antibody present in the blood is determined by using a blood sample to find out how much is required to neutralize a given amount of virus.  The red blood cells are removed from the sample to leave serum.  Small serum samples are then diluted varying amounts and added to a specific amount of known virus (rabies in this case).  The most diluted serum sample that is still able to neutralize the virus is referred to as the titer (18).   

Type of Vaccines:  A variety of types of vaccines are available for rabies, as well as a variety of associated vaccination protocols.   Vaccines may be licensed for use every one, two, or three years by the CFIA.  Although vaccination of small animals against rabies is not legally required in Canada, it is strongly recommended.  Many veterinarians recommend and use annual vaccination protocols, while some revaccinate every three years (using a different vaccine).  Regardless of the type of vaccine used, a booster injection should be given one year after the initial vaccination of an animal (19).  Recommendations for vaccination of large animals tend to more variable, and depend somewhat on the prevalence of rabies in each province.   Below is a  table listing some rabies vaccines.  Although the table represents vaccines licensed in the United States, many are licensed in Canada as well.


http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5403a1.htm (19)

Human Vaccines: There are an estimated 40,000 to 100,000 human deaths from rabies every year (11).  Almost all of these cases occur in areas of the world where uncontrolled domestic dog rabies is still a major issue (not in Canada or the USA). 

There are numerous occupancies that put people at higher than normal risk.  For example, wildlife workers, veterinarians, zoo staff, lab workers, some public health workers, animal control workers, and some high risk individuals such as hunters, trappers, and spelunkers in endemic areas (20).  For these individuals, a preventative vaccine is available.  A series of three shots are given initially.  Approximately four weeks after the last shot, a blood sample is drawn to measure antibody titer levels.  Titers levels are regularly analyzed to ensure adequate protection remains.  A booster is given when indicated by a low titer level.  At the time of a rabies exposure, if titer levels are inadequate and/or if the exposure is of a serious enough nature, post exposure rabies vaccines will still be given.  The number of doses required is less than normal, however (only two) (21). 

Not being in a job category listed above does not necessarily preclude exposure to rabies.  Although the risk may be low, accidental exposure can still occur through contact with wild animals (ex. While camping or enjoying other outdoor activities see the DISTRIBUTION OF RABIES VIRUS IN WESTERN CANADA section for high risk species and endemic areas), contact with an exposed pet, or from wild intruders into the home.  For these cases, Post Exposure Vaccination may be administered.  If treatment is started early enough (should be started immediately after exposure) and done to completion, rabies can be treated successfully.   Post exposure treatment involves a series of five injections into the muscle (21).   

There is only one human rabies vaccine licensed for use in Canada.  This is the Imovax Rabies vaccine (20).  It is an inactivated rabies vaccine, which means that the virus has been manipulated so that it will still stimulate the formation of antibodies but will not cause disease.  This vaccine is used for both pre-exposure and post-exposure human vaccinations.

Rabies is a scary disease, but should not completely stop people from doing the things that they love.  Outdoor activities and an adoring pet can still be safely enjoyed with a good knowledge of what to be aware of.  Arm yourself with knowledge of how to be cautious and what to if something goes wrong, and use that knowledge to help you safely have a good time.  Above all, remember that wildlife is WILD.  That means that there is no knowledge of what the animal may have been exposed to.  Avoid direct contact whenever possible.  Wildlife is to be appreciated from a safe distance and left undisturbed.  If the animal is injured, contact your local animal control or wildlife rehabilitation agency.