Dear Doctor: Rabies shot even for a dog always leashed?

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Q. I know that dogs can get rabies from an infected animal. But I always keep my little shiba inu on a leash. She never got the hang of coming when I call, so she stays tethered to me whenever we go out. I was wondering if we could skip the rabies shot for that reason. It’s not like a rabid wild animal is going to come bite her when we are together.

Harry Winter
Woodside, New York

A. Dear Mr. Winter,

No, you cannot skip the rabies shot. One reason is that giving your dog periodic rabies vaccines is the law in your state, as in just about every other. In addition, the fact that your dog is always on a leash when you walk her does not make it impossible for her to contract rabies. It’s true that rabies is generally transmitted to a dog via a bite from another animal (the virus is in their saliva) and that your dog is less likely to get bitten if the two of you are attached by a leash. But what if you let your dog out by herself in the yard — or if she’s allowed out in an enclosed area when you board her or take her to other people’s homes? What’s to say she wouldn’t be attacked by a rabid raccoon, skunk, or fox? Even if that animal’s saliva makes its way into an open wound on your pet without an actual bite, rabies can be transmitted. And it’s such an awful disease, with seizures, paralysis, and other horrific features. Why take even a minuscule chance?

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