Rabies Vaccination Requirements for Dogs, Cats, and Ferrets

Rabies Vaccination Rule for Dogs, Cats, and Ferrets

All dogs, cats, and ferrets in Washington must have up-to-date rabies vaccines. Washington State 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.

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that infects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).  All warm-blooded mammals, including humans, can get infected with rabies.  

Dog, cat, and ferret

Rabies FAQ

How common is rabies in Washington?

Bats are the only animal in Washington known to be a source (reservoir) of rabies, although in other states across the country, raccoons, skunks, and foxes are sources of rabies. Most bats do not have rabies, but all contact with bats should be avoided to prevent exposure to rabies virus. Every year there are bats that test positive for rabies after being submitted to public health for testing. The last reported case of rabies in an animal other than a bat was in 2015. A cat developed rabies after catching a rabid bat. The last reported cases of people infected with rabies in Washington were in 1995 and 1997. See rabies activities in Washington. In other parts of the world, there is still dog rabies that spreads among dog populations. Bringing a dog into the United States from these areas could introduce rabies and put people and pets at risk.

If so few people get rabies, why do I have to vaccinate my pets?

Vaccinating pets is one of the best ways to protect people and pets against rabies. Pets are more likely to contact wild animals, such as bats, that may have rabies. If we control rabies in domestic animals, we can reduce potential exposures of people to rabies. When people are potentially exposed to rabies, they must undergo a series of rabies shots.

Why must people receive shots after being exposed to a potentially rabid animal?

Every year in Washington, hundreds of people must undergo the series of shots to prevent rabies, called post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP, because they are potentially exposed to the virus. The shots can stop rabies if given soon after someone is exposed to the virus. Rabies is deadly to people if untreated.

Wouldn't it just be easier to vaccinate people for rabies?

Preventing rabies from spreading in animals is the best way to protect people. Many wild animals can carry rabies. Fortunately, the only wild animals in Washington that currently carry rabies are bats. Vaccinating pets is an important part of making sure rabies does not become more widespread in other animals in our state. For people in high-risk occupations, like veterinarians and wildlife and animal control officers, it is recommended to receive rabies vaccinations before being exposed to a potentially rabid animal. Certain travelers to regions outside of the United States where rabies in dogs is commonly found may be recommended to receive rabies vaccinations. See more about pre-exposure vaccine recommendations.

Will I be fined for not having my pets vaccinated?

Any enforcement of the rabies law would come from cities or counties. There is no enforcement of the law at the state level. Some communities already require proof of rabies vaccination in order to get a pet license. Contact your city or county animal control office or local health department if you have questions.

Why should I have my animals vaccinated against rabies?

  • Rabies vaccinations in pets are extremely good at protecting them from getting rabies in case they are exposed. Vaccinating pets is also one of the most effective ways for preventing rabies exposures in people.
  • If your dog, cat, or ferret is not vaccinated, and is bitten by an animal that might be infected with rabies, your pet will need to be confined and observed for four months. If the pet develops signs of rabies while in confinement, it must be euthanized to be tested for rabies.

 Keeping your pet’s rabies vaccination up to date will provide excellent protection against rabies and decrease the length of confinement and observation if they are ever exposed to a rabid animal, such as a bat.

My cat never goes outside, so why would I get a rabies vaccine?

We frequently get reports of bats that are found in houses. Cats can get rabies from playing with or killing a rabid bat. For information on how to "bat proof" your home.

Why are ferrets required to get rabies vaccines?

There is an effective vaccine developed for ferrets. Since bats sometimes get into houses, and ferrets often go outside with their owners, ferrets can also be at risk for rabies infection.

Where can I get low-cost rabies vaccines?

Many veterinarians help people protect their pets and their communities with low-cost rabies vaccines. You can also contact animal shelters and animal organizations in your community for suggestions of low-cost options.


Washington State Rabies Rule

Rabies Fact Sheet

  • Rabies Frequently Asked Questions - Rabies symptoms in people, how it is spread, what to do about animal bites, how to reduce your risk of exposure, and pre-and post-exposure vaccines for people.

Rabies Control Ordinance

Some city or county governments have a rabies control ordinance to enforce vaccination requirements. If a local community wants to adopt or update a rabies control ordinance, here are some helpful resources.

Pet Import and Export Requirements

Content Source: Communicable Disease EpidemiologyZoonotic Disease Program