a neurotrophic virus that causes fatal disease in human and animals.
Media Release from Colorado Dept of Agriculture- April 15, 2010

From the AlpacaSite April 21, 2010: With additional notes in red

Here are some comments from our seminars where we talk about rabies vaccine and vaccinations.

1) The rabies vaccine MUST be given by a veterinarian for you to have legal(??) protection. In many states (not all), you can buy rabies vaccine "over the counter" at many farm stores with no prior veterinary prescription. But in the event of rabies exposure, your county health people will NOT recognize your non vet, self administered rabies vaccine administration (yes, even with receipts, etc).

2) The older rabies vaccines were known to cause reactions. Even with recent improvements, the rabies vaccine still remains a "hot" vaccine. This means that it has more potential to cause post shot reactions compared to a "cold" vaccines (West Nile for example is considered a cold vaccine for alpacas/llamas). However, giving a hot vaccine and a cold one within hours can cause more reactions than either given alone. For this reason, never allow your vet to administer the rabies vaccine and a CD&T (or Leptospirosis or West Nile or whatever vaccine) at the same time (unless they want to hang around for an hour afterwards). The majority of acute vaccinosis reactions are often apparent, within minutes, of giving the rabies vaccine with another different vaccine. You can always give the other non-rabies vaccine several days later.

Normally you don't give rabies shot and any other shot at a minimum 2-4 weeks apart.

Always, always watch your animal after giving any vaccine, but always observe after a “hot” vaccine as sometimes it takes thirty minutes or so for the acute symptoms to flare up.

3) There is no "one recommendation" for the rabies vaccine. Across the country, the rabies exposure risk due from wild animals simply varies too much. You must look at your county/state data and make up your mind with your vet's input. For example, rabies is highly endemic in some areas of the southeast USA, and it is virtually absent in others. One recommendation for all geographical areas is foolish as the rabies vaccine does cause reactions. But in rabies endemic areas, you MUST vaccinate! Your vet will know your area's risk.

4) If your alpaca/llama sees a rabid skunk/raccoon/bat/whatever, their natural curiosity leads them right up to that animal. They often "nose" the animal and resultantly get bit on the nose, lip or legs. Rabid animals can act "furious" (like dogs) or "dumb" (like cows). Not all drool. One symptom of rabies is seeing a clearly nocturnal wild animal wandering about in the bright daylight oblivious to other animals/people. Some do not show symptoms. For example, Skunks carry rabies and not show symptoms until very late in the disease. In the meantime, they can pass this disease to offspring during pregnancy.

5) When people call me about a wandering and "dazed looking" raccoon/skunk in the daylight, I immediately advise calling animal control. They will shoot the rabid looking animal. They will not trap it. In most areas, animal control simply does not have the resources to confirm rabies on every suspected wild animal. If a suspected animal bites a person, then a confirmation test is always done. If animal control cannot get there immediately, then you need to deal with this. Do NOT let this very likely rabid animal wander away to later return and potentially bite one of your livestock, dogs or cats, your neighbor’s animals (or you!). I dislike guns, but I have one for this very purpose

5) Alpacas/llamas get rabies. This is clearly documented. Camelids can show either "dumb" or "furious" rabies symptoms. Rabies is spread by saliva and our camelid friends have a way of projecting this. Consider your liability for farm visitors . . .

6) The only way to confirm rabies is to cut off the suspected animal’s head, get a small section of brain tissue, use specific stains and look for cellular Negri inclusions under the microscope. There is NO other test. If your county suspects rabies in your animal, they have the right to quarantine your animal (at your cost) and sadly (if symptoms persist) to kill your animal. This latter issue is rare - but it does happen. Most often, you are told to quarantine your animal on your property (14 to 30 days depending).

7) There are one year rabies vaccines and three year rabies vaccines (both under the IMRAB and RABAC labels). But each comes from the same exact same batch! The three year lots are just tested for efficacy at three years and thus cost more due to the longer testing, time, etc. Thus, the three year tests show that the vaccine works at three years so it can be labeled as such (RABAC-3 or IMRAB-3).

8) Some states/counties with endemic wildlife rabies insist on rabies vaccination every single year. I, and many other animal health experts, feel that this is too often for alpacas/llamas. We prefer every three
years. The reason for the yearly vaccination protocol is to insure that a large percentage of the animal population gets rabies immunizations.

9) There are blood antibodies that can be tested to show that the rabies vaccine protection remains. Several dog/cat studies show that rabies vaccine protection exists for at least five years after injection. Some states/counties will accept blood antibody results and others will not.

10) The use of the rabies vaccine (and every other veterinary drug) for alpacas/llamas is considered a legal "off label" use. Off label means that there is no legal documentation of efficacy. This does NOT mean that the vaccine/drug/treatment does not work, rather, it simply means that in the case of an adverse reaction or lack of protection, there is no legal recourse against the vaccine manufacturer and/or vet. This off label descriptor is typically a legal issue, not necessarily a pharmacological concern.

11) Rabies vaccination is not just for protection of your pet. Rather, it is a public health issue as people get rabies from rabid animals (zoonotic disease). This sounds strange, but your vet is actually licensed to protect the public by immunizing/treating animals. This is a legal issue and gets back to the reason why only licensed vets can verify that a rabies vaccine has been properly administered.

I suggest that newcomers print this off, and discuss this with your local vet. He/she has the best perspective for protection of your animals (as well as you!) and, together you must make the decision that is best for your animals in YOUR area.

Hope this helps.

Dr. Steve Hull
Stephen Hull, MS, PhD, Tom Cameron, DVM & families
"a full service alpaca farm including seminars and consulting" http://timberlakefarms.net
TimberLake Farms, Inc.
12001 East Waterloo Road
Arcadia, OK 73007
405 341 8444 (home/farm)
405 550-3023 (cell)

Additional Information from Brenda Gallagher, 04-29-12010 via email.

“All species of livestock are susceptible to rabies; cattle and horses are the most frequently reported infected species. Livestock exposed to a rabid animal and currently vaccinated with a vaccine approved by USDA for that species should be revaccinated immediately and observed for 45 days. Unvaccinated livestock should be euthanized immediately. If the animal is not euthanized it should be kept under close observation for 6 months. Any illness in an animal under observation should be reported immediately to the local health department. If signs suggestive of rabies develop, the animal should be euthanized and the head shipped for testing as described in Part I.A.8.” Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, 2008

Attached are excerpt (as a .PDF) from the Colorado Revised Statutes §25-4-6 Rabies Control and the Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, 2008, National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV).

Comments from Nick Striegel, DVM of the CO State Veterinarian’s Office, Lakewood, Colorado:
1. All FDA-approved vaccines are off-label use in camelids.
2. Owners can vaccinate their own livestock; however, vaccination by an owner as opposed to a veterinarian may be treated differently by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and/or local health officers.
3. No restrictions against purchase of rabies vaccines for livestock in Colorado.
4. No cure for rabies virus.
5. Risk of rabies exposure in Colorado has been, until recently, historically low. Assess risk of exposure to rabies on your ranch; don’t interact with wildlife.
6. Speak with your veterinarian.

Comments from Rob Callan, DVM, Service Head, Livestock Medicine and Surgery, Department of Clinical Sciences, Colorado State University:

“Skunk rabies has been increasing in Colorado over the last several years and since the Summer of 2009, there have been cases in domestic livestock (cattle and horses)…The area of greatest concern right now is in the counties that are seeing the cases, particularly Elbert county. I think that all llama and alpaca owners should consider vaccinating their animals for rabies, particularly if they have observed or smelled skunks in the area. There are no rabies vaccines currently labeled for llamas and alpacas. So, even if you vaccinate, the animals will likely be quarantined if there is documented exposure to a rabid animal. However, the available rabies vaccines are likely to provide some degree of protection even if they have not been tested in llamas and alpacas. The vaccines that we are recommending for use in llamas or alpacas are IMRAB 3 or IMRAB Large Animal (Merial, Inc. but currently not available), Defensor 3 (Pfizer), Rabdomun or Prorab-1 (Intervet, Schering-Plough). All of these vaccines are labeled for cattle or sheep. The recommended dosing and administration is the same as for cattle or sheep and starts with an initial 2 ml vaccination any time after 3 months of age followed with annual boosters. The route is IM for all of the vaccines; however, IMRAB is also labeled for SQ administration.

As far as rabies vaccine safety goes, there is no specific information. Llama and alpaca owners on the east coast and other areas of the U.S. have been vaccinating their animals for many years and no problems specific to the rabies vaccine have been reported to the best of my knowledge.”

My 'not-a-vet' comments:

  1. Historical data indicate that killed virus rabies vaccines are safe for camelids; modified live virus (MLV) rabies vaccines should not be used for camelids (Fowler, Murray, 1998, Medicine and Surgery of South American Camelids, Blackwell Publishing).
  2. Per Stacey Byers, DVM, (Asst Professor, Livestock Medicine and Surgery, Dept of Clinical Sciences, CSU), there can be some post-vaccine lumps and/or your camelids can feel a little lethargic or sore just like with other vaccines.
  3. Minimum age at primary vaccination is 3 months; rabies vaccine provides immunity at 28 days after initial vaccine. So, a cria vaccinated at 3 months of age will not have immunity until 4 months of age if the dam is not currently vaccinated.
  4. Call your Colorado Department of Wildlife officer if you suspect rabid wildlife or want to know if rabid wildlife have been confirmed or suspected in your area.

    April/May is breeding season for skunks and they do come out during the day looking for mates. A local vet recommends that with rabies now being endemic in the area, that even if your dogs and cats have received a 3 year vaccine, that it be repeated annually.

    Skunks are nocturnal animals. If you see any walking around during the day, look at them closely. If they are stumbling around, seem disoriented, or just walking down the road, more than likely you have rabid skunks.