Rabies Requirements (DOH)

January 2012

New rabies rule in effect

Beginning January 1, 2012, all dogs, cats, and ferrets in Washington must have up-to-date rabies vaccines. Any mammal can get rabies. However, bats are the only animal in Washington known to carry rabies. In other states, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes are known to carry rabies. Many cities and counties required rabies vaccination for pet licenses before the new state rule took effect. The rule, WAC 246-100-197, says an owner of a dog, cat, or ferret shall have it vaccinated against rabies and revaccinated following veterinary and vaccine manufacturer instructions. An "owner" is any person legally responsible for the care and actions of a pet animal.

The Washington State Departments of Health and Agriculture have no provision for rabies vaccine exemption through the use of rabies titers. It is recognized that rabies vaccination may under specific conditions pose an unacceptably high risk to the health of an individual animal. This is a decision made by the owner in conjunction with their family veterinarian and should be documented in the medical record. However, if the pet that does not have proof of current rabies vaccination is exposed to a potentially rabid animal or bites a person, the pet would be looked upon by public health as a non-vaccinate. Washington State follows the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control developed by the National Association of State and Public Health Veterinarians which does not accept titers as an alternative to vaccination for reasons stated in the document.

Rabies is still not common in Washington State. The Department of Health tests 180 to 350 animals each year. In 2011, they tested 193 bats and found 11 that were infected with rabies. It is very rare for a person to get rabies in Washington. However, 251 people had to receive the series of shots (known as post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP) in 2011 following their exposure to potentially rabid animals. In December 2011, a person in Thurston County was bitten by a rabid bat that was sleeping in a bedroom slipper.

The last reported case of rabies in an animal other than a bat in Washington State was in 2002. A cat developed rabies after catching a rabid bat. The last reported human cases of rabies in Washington were in 1995 and 1997. 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 and had to undergo post-exposure prophylaxis.

There is no fine or enforcement at the state level. However, the intent of this new rule is to educate pet owners about the rabies vaccine so they’ll protect their pets, themselves, and their families. Any fines would come from cities or counties. Many communities already require proof of rabies vaccination in order to get a pet license.

If a pet is not vaccinated, and is bitten by a stray or wild animal, the pet needs to be confined and observed for up to six months. If the pet shows signs of rabies while in confinement, the animal must be euthanized in order to be tested for rabies. For more information go to www.doh.wa.gov.

Copyright © 2001–2014 Washington State Veterinary Medical Association. All rights reserved. WSVMA Privacy Policy.