The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) strongly supports the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians' (NASPHV) recommendation that all dogs, cats, and ferrets should be vaccinated to protect against rabies infection. Rabies is an almost invariably fatal disease for animals and humans; vaccination of animals is a critical step in preventing infection and protecting public health. However, AVMA recognizes some animals might benefit from a waiver from mandated rabies vaccination because the vaccination may endanger the animal's life, or a waiver might be necessary for research purposes. If adequate steps can be taken to minimize the chance of exposure to rabies virus, the AVMA supports such animals being granted a waiver from mandatory rabies vaccination, upon recommendation of a licensed veterinarian and with the concurrence of the appropriate veterinary public health authorities. Because rabies continues to be a significant public health issue, waivers should not be issued arbitrarily upon client request and should be based upon clinical evidence, as documented in the patient's medical records, that the animal would be at considerable risk of a life-threatening reaction. Modern killed virus or recombinant rabies vaccines have no risk of inducing rabies in the vaccinated animal and are not contraindicated in most immunocompromised animals. Advanced age of the animal or a desire on the part of the client or veterinarian to minimize the use of vaccinations (in the absence of a specific contraindication to vaccination) should not be considered sufficient justification for issuing a rabies vaccination waiver.
Waivers of rabies vaccination should only be issued with approval from the appropriate public health authorities upon recommendation from a licensed veterinarian with a veterinarian-client-patient relationship. They should be reconsidered at least yearly and, if appropriate, may be renewed on an annual basis following a reassessment of the animal's condition.
The client should be informed that:
- If rabies vaccination is waived, the animal is at risk of rabies infection if a confirmed or suspected exposure occurs.
- A rabies vaccination waiver only serves to allow the animal to be properly licensed in compliance with animal control regulations where this is allowed.
- An animal with a rabies vaccination waiver should be confined to prevent contact with wildlife, unvaccinated pets, and the public.
- If the animal with a rabies vaccination waiver is involved in a potential rabies exposure incident, the animal shall be considered unvaccinated against rabies for the purpose of enforcing appropriate public health regulations or when following the recommendations of the NASPHV Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, up to and including euthanasia.
This policy should not be construed as justification for failing to vaccinate animals for rabies in jurisdictions where such vaccination is required by law and no waiver or delay process exists.