Rabies virus protection issues and therapy

Jean Dodds wrote this article for the journal, Global Vaccines and Immunology.  It’s packed with the latest information on rabies titers, new products, and adverse reactions.




Rabies remains a serious and usually fatal disease in many countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 10 million people worldwide require medical treatment against rabies each year after being exposed to an animal suspected of having rabies. In the United States of America (USA), there are close to 40,000 post-exposure prophylaxis treatments administrated each year, which represents about 100 million dollars in costs for treatment, health care, education and prevention. Current rabies exposure immune prophylaxis includes a new treatment product tested in Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials in Israel. This product is now sold in 10 countries and should soon be available in the USA.  Results of comparison clinical trials show it to be as efficacious as other human immunoglobulin G (IgG) products.  In animals, there have been no documented cases in North America of rabies in vaccinated, truly immunized dogs and cats for two decades, although the disease still exists among wildlife and feral companion animal species. While most pet dogs are vaccinated for rabies, fewer cats have historically been vaccinated until recent laws have required it. The Rabies Challenge Fund (RCF) research studies are now at years 6 and 7 post-vaccination, and the initial challenge phase results showed the vaccinates to be protected from rabies.

Key words

rabies virus, vaccine, adverse events


AE: Adverse Events; CNS: Central Nervous System; CVB: Center for Veterinary Biologics; ELISA: Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay; CFR: Code of Federal Regulations; IgG: Immunoglobulin G; MLV: Modified Live Virus; RCF: Rabies Challenge Fund; RVNA: Rabies Virus Neutralizing Titer; RFFIT: Rapid Fluorescent Focus Inhibition Test; USA: United States of America; USDA: United States Department of Agriculture; WHO: World Health Organization.


Countless animals have been vaccinated routinely and repeatedly for rabies and the other common serious infectious viral and bacterial diseases, without obvious untoward effects [1-4]. But, veterinarians still need to be aware of the potential for adverse events (AE) and determine what constitutes “acceptable” harm [1-3].

Vaccines typically contain immunologic adjuvants which act to accelerate, prolong, or enhance antigen-specific immune responses when used together with specific vaccine antigens [5,6]. While vaccine adjuvants are incorporated into vaccines to enhance their immunogenicity, this increases the risk of autoimmune and inflammatory adverse events following vaccination [5].  For the killed vaccines available for human and veterinary use, potent adjuvants are included to produce a more sustained humoral immune response and compete favorably with the longer protection typically afforded by modified-live virus (MLV) products. But, these adjuvants may also induce adverse effects [1,5-17].


Although killed or inactivated products make up about 15% of the veterinary biologicals used, they have been associated with 85% of the post-vaccination reactions, mainly because of the acute adverse responses induced by the adjuvants used in companion animal, wildlife and livestock species [1,10,16-18].  Several years ago, an “all-killed” combination vaccine for dogs was marketed, but some users encountered minor problems with discoloration and local reactions at the injection site, and the product was withdrawn.  Ringworm and chlamydia vaccines introduced for use in cats are advertised as having the safety advantage of a killed product [1].  This debate about the relative merits and safety of killed versus MLV vaccines has been ongoing, and was hotly debated in a comparison of the risks, costs, and convenience of killed versus modified live human polio vaccines [19].   Documented AE from the adjuvants used in human vaccines, especially those containing aluminum and thimerosal (mercury salt), continue to appear in the literature [11-16].

Adverse events associated with vaccine adjuvants

Adjuvants have been used safely in human and veterinary medicine for decades, especially those containing aluminum salts, monophosphoryl lipid A, and squalene in animal vaccines [20-27].  In 2012, investigators from China determined that four botanical polysaccharide preparations, namely Astragalus, Echinacea, wolfberry and kelp, acted as immunopotentiators/adjuvants in mice and dogs when added to veterinary rabies vaccines [28].   Nevertheless, as cited above, adjuvants can also produce numerous AE.

Experimental studies have shown that simultaneous administration of even two-three adjuvants can overcome genetic resistance to autoimmunity [15]. Because vaccines are viewed as inherently safe and non-toxic, toxicity studies are often excluded from their regulatory safety assessment.  Children are especially at risk being more vulnerable to toxicity than adults; and they are regularly exposed to more vaccine adjuvants than adults.  Adjuvants impact the central nervous system at all levels and can do so by changing gene expression [13]. Further, it is now known that the neuro-immune axis, heavily targeted by adjuvants, plays a key role in brain development and immune function [12,13,15,24].

The most common AE following routine vaccination in humans affect the central nervous system (CNS) [16]. These phenomena were classically attributed to the effects of the vaccine antigens. However, more recently, concerns have focused on the widespread use of aluminum and mercury-containing compounds in the vaccines given to humans and animals [5,6,11-17].

Studies using animal models and in human patients have indicated that these metals can inflict both immune and inflammatory responses, defined since 2011 as the autoimmune syndrome induced by adjuvants (ASIA syndrome) [11]. Presently, it includes four conditions that share similar signs and symptoms and result from hyperactive immune responses: siliconosis, macrophagic myofasciitis, Gulf war syndrome, and post-vaccination phenomena [7,11,14].  The common denominator was the triggering effect of the adjuvants, in combination with other environmental factors and genetic predisposition [1,2]  When combined, these factors cause the failure of self-tolerance, which equates to autoimmunity [2].

The AE associated with administration of adjuvanted vaccines in humans are both neurological and neuropsychiatric [8,10-15]. For example, aluminum nanoparticles recently have been shown to possess a unique capacity to cross the blood-brain and blood cerebrospinal fluid barriers, thereby inciting harmful immune inflammatory responses in neural tissues [16]. The authors suggest that these findings could explain why vaccines appear to have a predilection for affecting the CNS. To date, however, these authors comment that the pharmaceutical industry and drug regulatory agencies assert that the concentrations of aluminum and mercury used in vaccines do not represent a health hazard [16,17].

Proving the ASIA concept was accomplished with experimental animal models including those for:  rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, autoimmune thyroid disease, anti-phospholipid syndrome, and myocarditis. The reported neurotoxicity affects learning, memory, cognition, speech, increases seizure propensity, and alters behavior by increasing anxiety, insomnia, dementia and confusion [24]. Animal models are now widely used to understand the mechanisms, etiology and pathogenesis of these diseases; and results could help promote development of new diagnostic, predictive and therapeutic methods [7,11,14,16,17,27].

Effects of aluminum and mercury

Exposure to aluminum and mercury is widespread in nature and our lives.  These metals are found in many sources of drinking water, as a food additive especially in processed “fast” convenience foods, in many cosmetics, field, lawn and garden fertilizers and herbicides, and in pharmaceuticals including vaccines; they thus can accumulate in the bodies of humans and most, if not all, species. They not only are neurotoxins, but also are immunotoxic, genotoxic, pro-oxidant, and pro-inflammatory [6-17].  Further, they are recognized to be endocrine disrupters, depress glucose metabolism, and interfere with calcium homeostasis, and mitochondrial and other biochemical pathways [16,17].

Mercury is another commonly acknowledged trigger of ASIA syndrome [14]. Use of mercury compounds has been widespread in medicine, despite its known toxicity.  Mercury and other heavy metals mainly affect the body in two ways: via toxic and immunological reactions – which cause hypersensitivity or autoimmunity. Studies show that these metals, can be a risk factor for the development of various autoimmune diseases, such as autoimmune thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, and kidney disease, and nonspecific symptoms such as chronic fatigue and myalgia. Animal studies have shown that mercury, aluminum, nickel, chromium, silver and gold, can be either non-toxic or induce severe diseases, such as skin disease or autoimmunity, which depends upon the individual animal’s genotype.  Endocrine status and the presence of chronic infections are factors that might predispose to the risk of sensitization [7,11,14].

The type of allergy induced by metals is delayed-type hypersensitivity and manifests often as a contact dermatitis. Thimerosal (merthiolate), like nickel, is one of the most frequent allergens in children and adolescents, and in companion animals vaccinated for rabies [1,2,7,11,14]. These metals exert both specific and non-specific effects contributing to the ASIA syndrome [14].

Vaxjo is a newly published, web-based vaccine adjuvant database [29]. Basic vaccine information stored includes: adjuvant name, components, structure, appearance, storage, preparation, safety, function. Currently over 100 vaccine adjuvants have been annotated in Vaxjo, and they have been used in over 380 vaccines produced against over 81 pathogens, cancers, or allergies.

In summary for aluminum, as stated by Tomljenovic and Shaw [16]:

“All the clinical and experimental evidence collected thus far identifies at least three main risks associated with aluminum (sic) in vaccines:

  1. it can persist in the body (up to 8-11 years following vaccination);
  2. it can trigger pathological immunological responses;
  3. it can make its way into the CNS where it can drive further deleterious immuno-inflammatory processes resulting in brain inflammation and long-term neural dysfunction.”

Other issues with rabies vaccines

Vaccination of pet and research dogs with polyvalent vaccines containing rabies virus or rabies vaccine alone was shown to induce production of antithyroglobulin autoantibodies, a provocative and important finding with implications for the subsequent development of hypothyroidism [26].

Post-vaccinal polyneuropathy is a recognized entity associated occasionally with the use mostly of canine distemper and rabies vaccines, and the ovine bluetongue virus vaccines, but any vaccine could presumably be implicated [2,9,10, 27,30-33]. This can result in various clinical signs including muscular atrophy, inhibition or interruption of neuronal control of tissue and organ function, muscular excitation, incoordination and weakness, as well as seizures [2,10,31].

Killed virus vaccines like those for rabies virus or ovine bluetongue virus, can trigger immediate and delayed adverse vaccine reactions [1,2,10,14,18,30-34]. While there may be immediate hypersensitivity reactions, other acute events tend to occur 24-72 hours or up to a week afterwards, and as long as 45 days later in the case of more delayed reactions.   Documented reactions in the above citations include: behavioral aggression and separation anxiety, destruction and shredding of clothing and bedding; obsessive behavior, barking, fearfulness, self-mutilation, tail chewing;  pica, with eating wood, stones, earth, and feces; seizures and epilepsy; fibrosarcomas at the injection site; and autoimmune diseases such as those affecting bone marrow and blood cells, joints, eyes, skin, kidney, liver, bowel, and CNS [1-3,18].

Based upon experience in the USA, rabies vaccines are the most common group of AE reported to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Center for Veterinary Biologics (CVB) [32-33]. Currently, 14 rabies vaccines are labeled for use in dogs, but only two do not contain the thimerosal (mercury) adjuvant/preservative.  These vaccines meet the standard requirements of USDA Title 9, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR),  which requires that the vaccine provide protection of equal to or greater than 88% when comparing vaccinated animals to controls [30].

All rabies vaccines are evaluated prior to licensure, but not all safety concerns may be seen, because of an insufficient number of animals for low frequency events, insufficient duration of observation, sensitivities of subpopulations (e.g., breed, reproductive status, and unintended species), or interactions with concomitantly administered products [18].

Despite the serious under-reporting of vaccine AE, the Report cited above [32], states that between April 1, 2004 and March 31, 2007, nearly 10,000 adverse event reports (all animal species) were received by manufacturers of rabies vaccines.  Approximately 65% of the manufacturer’s reports involved dogs. This 2008 Report further states that “Rabies vaccines are the most common group of biological products identified in adverse event reports received by the CVB.”   During the 3-year period covered in this report, the CVB received 246 AE reports for dogs in which a rabies vaccine was identified as one of the products administered [32].

More facts about rabies and rabies titers

If a person or animal is bitten by a dog, cat or ferret, the animal causing the bite should be observed for 10 days. If the animal remains healthy, then one can be assured that there was no rabies virus in the saliva at the time of the bite. Whether that observation occurs at home or at a clinic should not be determined by vaccine status. Remember also that even in areas where terrestrial rabies is not active, that rabies in bats is seen nationwide [35,36].                                                                                                                                                     

A review of rabies challenge-studies indicates that there is a positive correlation between rabies virus neutralizing antibody (RVNA) titers and the level of protection after virus challenge. Pre-exposure vaccination coupled with a RVNA titer at or above 0.5 IU/mL indicates greater assurance of protection than does the animal’s current vaccination status [35].

Because we may not know if an animal has been exposed to rabies virus, the KSU Rabies Diagnostic Laboratory [35] recommends that rabies titers be done routinely for dogs and cats. To provide the individual with best and safest medicine, a yearly rabies titer would make sure the pet has protection from unknown exposures. The circulating rabies neutralizing antibody level does not last the lifetime of the pet. In vaccine trials, as the titer falls below 0.5 IU/ml the risk of contracting rabies after challenge goes up. Thus, when rabies titers drop below 0.5 IU/ml, giving a rabies booster is the prudent, safe decision [35,36].

Significant post-rabies adverse reactions are an issue not only for dogs and cats, but also are of serious concern for horses, as they must be given rabies boosters annually.   Many horses have incredibly high rabies blood antibody titers, and yet still must be revaccinated annually by law, and then can suffer a chronic disease state post-rabies vaccination.  As a result, the KSU Rabies Diagnostic Laboratory is actively pursuing rabies titer information from horse vaccine trials. Neutralizing antibody is neutralizing antibody, no matter the species; the goal is to confirm success of the 0.5 IU/ml level in horses as well [35,36].

New data on rabies titers

Anamnestic antibody responses with current vs out-of-date rabies vaccines were studied in 74 dogs/33 cats. All animals had anti-rabies antibody titers measured by the rapid fluorescent focus inhibition test (RFFIT) of > 0.5 IU/mL, 5-15 days after a rabies booster. Dogs with out-of-date vaccine status had a higher median rabies titer increase after a rabies booster, and most (26/33) cats had titers of  > 12 IU/mL, 5 -15 days after the booster.

Their findings were to give an immediate rabies booster vaccination with observation for 45 days in dogs/cats with out-of-date vaccine status, if they are exposed to rabies, as is the practice for those animals current on their rabies vaccine.

Presently, however, for out-of-date rabies cases, if exposed to a proven or suspect rabid animal, the options are either euthanasia or 6-month quarantine at the owner’s expense. These new data are of obvious benefit and impact  [35].

Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, 2016

According to this National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians report [36], dogs & cats exposed to rabies that are overdue for a vaccine can now have a rabies booster shot followed by an observation period rather than be quarantined or euthanized. This effectively reduces the quarantine period from six (6) months to four (4) months for unvaccinated dogs and cats exposed to rabies. The Association also recommended national level collecting and reporting of any additional data elements on rabid domestic animals.

The best “herd health” protection against rabies in both individual animals and the population is to have all of them currently vaccinated against rabies. [Note: rabies exemptions may be approved on a case-by-case basis with written justification of the primary care veterinarian.]

New rabies immune prophylaxis

Another approach to rabies exposure immune prophylaxis comes from a new treatment product tested in Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials in Israel (KamRAB). The clinical trials were prospective, randomized, double-blind, and non-inferiority study of 118 healthy subjects.  The study evaluated pharmacokinetic parameters of anti-rabies IgG levels in serum at different time points and assessed whether this immunoglobulin G (IgG) interfered with the development of self-active antibodies. In addition, safety and tolerability were assessed.  The trial’s primary end point measured the anti-rabies titer on day 14 as well as on additional time points for secondary end points, following drug infusion and infusion of an active vaccine as recommended by the standard-of-care.

Results of comparison clinical trials show it to be as efficacious and safe as other current IgG immunoglobulin products. This product is now sold in 10 countries and should soon be available in the USA (www.kamada.com)

Rabies challenge fund (rcf) 2016 challenge trials update (http://www.rabieschallengefund.org)

The USDA’s new rabies challenge virus was given; 6 weeks post-challenge results met the interim goal to satisfy Title 9, CFR requirements for rabies vaccine licensing. Fifteen dogs were in the trial.  Only one of the 5 dogs vaccinated in 2007 showed protection against rabies, while 4 of 5 dogs vaccinated in 2009 (80%) were protected against the live rabies virus challenge.

Once all 5 unvaccinated control dogs showed very early clinical signs of rabies virus infection, they were humanely euthanized. As required, the surviving 5 vaccinates were observed for another 6 weeks to detect late development of clinical signs of rabies.  No clinical issues occurred, so these dogs were successfully immunized and protected against rabies.

Whole blood mononuclear cells collected at post-challenge days 4 and 10 were tested by flow cytometry to determine the kinetics of immune memory cell responses.  Tissue samples from the euthanized dogs underwent rabies virus detection testing.  Serum samples collected at various time points throughout the study were evaluated by rabies serum virus neutralization and ELISA testing methods.

Another challenge with 15 dogs was completed to fulfill the USDA Title 9 requirements for rabies vaccine licensing and to establish a canine rabies titer standard as confirmed by challenge data.  Results were similar to those of the initial trial.


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  16. Tomljenovic L, Shaw CA (2016) Answers to common misconceptions regarding the toxicity of aluminum adjuvants in vaccines. Vaccinology, Elsevier, San Diego (in press).
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K-9 Cares Academy UPDATE

WHEN: December 1st, Class starts at 7pm
WHERE: 5533 Weslayan (next to Chuck E. Cheese’s)

K-9 Angels is an all-breed rescue, but also an all-inclusive life saving operation which includes education on spaying and neutering!

Part of our mission statement is to educate the public about the importance of this life-saving procedure to decrease the number of unwanted animals crowding the streets and shelters.  Join us December 1, 2016 as we lead a class which is free and open to the public on how to talk to anyone about fixing their pets.  A listing of free and low-cost services in the area will be provided.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

6:30pm meet and greet

7pm meeting start

5533 Weslayan St. Houston, TX 77005

*Please note this class is typically held every 3rd Thursday of the month but has been changed for the holiday season. There will be no class November 17th or December 15th. Please check the K-9 Angels Facebook for future dates.

These classes are open to the public and cover the following:

– How to have positive, non-judgmental conversations about spaying and neutering and pet care with animal owners.
– What to do when you find a dog.  Debunking shelter myths.
– Some basic pet care words in Spanish to aide in conversations with Spanish speakers.
– Comprehensive listing of low-cost or free services available in the Houston/Harris County areas.

This class and resources will be geared towards dogs, but can be useful for cat lovers as well!  This can be a great opportunity for rescue groups to network and get to know each other.

We hope to see you there!  If you cannot make this date, look out for the next one!


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5 Common Human Medications That are Dangerous to Pets

You are a fantastic pet parent. Your fur babies are always clean, well groomed, well feed, and loved.  So when a pet family member becomes sick or injured, you want to make them feel better ASAP, just as you would want for your children.  It’s only a swollen paw — I can give my animal kids a pain killer from my home medicine cabinet, right?  As easy as it would be to reach for a people pill, it’s not such a good idea.  In fact, you can end up causing more problems for pets.

There are other ways pets can get their mitts on human meds, like if you leave a bottle of headache pills or a prescription medication out on the table where pets can reach, or you unknowingly drop a pill on the floor and your dog sniffs it out and eats it.  Both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs can potentially be dangerous to our animal friends, therefore, we must take care in securing all medications at home and refrain from giving without consulting a veterinarian.  In no particular order, here are five common human medications that are dangerous to pets:


This common household medication called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are ibuprofen and naproxen meds like Motrin, Advil, Aleve, and Naprosyn.  These medications are safe for people, but a single pill or more can cause serious harm to pets. Smaller type animals including dogs, cats, birds, ferrets, and hamsters may develop very serious stomach and intestinal ulcers, even kidney failure.  “The only pain pill we ever recommend is aspirin,” says  Dr. Justine Lee, associate director of veterinary services at the Pet Poison Hotline.

2. Acetaminophen

Tylenol, a popular type of pain medication containing acetaminophen, has been around for a long time, trusted by generations.  While acetaminophen is generally safe for children and adults, it is not for pets.  Even the smallest amount of this med ingested by a cat can cause damage to red blood cells, which leads to the inability to carry life needing oxygen. In large doses, dogs can also suffer from red blood cell damage as well as liver failure.

3. Benzodiazepines and Sleep Aids

Is your pet having trouble sleeping or seem panicky?  Do not give them human medications like Xanax, Ambien, and Lunesta, which are made to reduce anxiety and help people to sleep better.  Pets may experience completely reverse effects.  Dogs appear to be agitated and wired after ingesting sleep aids, and cats could go into liver failure when certain forms of benzodiazepines are ingested.  These drugs can also cause lethargy, disoriented walking, and labored breathing in pets.

4. Cholesterol Drugs

With label names such as Crestor and Lipitor, cholesterol medications are typically not prescribed to pets, but pets can find a way into your pill bottle.  Fortunately, if a pet swallows these meds, they will likely only experience mild vomiting or diarrhea.  But still, keep drugs out of reach as serious side effects from these drugs can come around in cases of frequent use or ingestion.

5. Antidepressants

Antidepressants must only be prescribed to pets by a professional.  A single pill has the power to cause poisoning related illness or death.  Pets overdosing on people antidepressants, like Cymbalta and Prozac, can lead to serious neurological problems including seizures and varying degrees of tremors and elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.

These are just five common human medications dangerous to give to pets or for pets to ingest.  You must remember that any people medication purposely or accidentally ingested in little to excess can pose potential harm or even death to your pet.

If you know or believe your beloved pet has consumed any type of over-the-counter medication, contact your veterinarian immediately.  There are also national poison control hotlines you can call with people who are ready to help you in such an emergency.

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Thinking About Adopting a Pet? Here are Some Useful Tips to Keep in Mind

Congrats!  You’ve decided you’re ready to share your life with an animal.  Get ready for one of the most rewarding experiences on the planet.  There is nothing else like having a non-human companion to share life’s ups and downs with.

When bringing a pet into your family, we cannot stress how important it is to adopt.  Every day, perfectly healthy animals are euthanized to create more room in shelters and purchasing from breeders gives homeless animals less opportunity to have a home.  Pet stores are possibly the worst place to get an animal, as the animals are obtained through horrible, abusive conditions.  If you love animals, adopting from a rescue or animal shelter is the best option.

Now that you’ve made the decision to adopt, you have many things to consider and prepare for.  While rewarding, taking care of an animal is challenging and can be stressful at times.  The more you understand about life with a pet, the less stressful it will be.  Keep all these things in mind to make life great for you and your pet.

Living Space

Consider the size of your home or apartment.  It should go without saying that a Great Dane is not suitable for a studio apartment.  Think about the size of your space and if you intend to stay there.  You could be living in a spacious place now, but have to downsize later.  Does your living space come with a backyard to play in and explore?  Your living situation is a big component in your pet’s comfort.

Daily Schedule

Your lifestyle has a huge effect on your pet.  If you’re away from home often, a dog isn’t the best pet choice.  With a pet, your schedule is no longer yours.  Feeding time, bathroom breaks and exercise must be incorporated into your daily routine.  Not only that, but you will need to keep to the schedule to accommodate your pet’s needs.

Animal’s Activity Level

Puppies and kittens are adorable, but they have a TON of energy. It can be exhausting just keeping up with them every day.  If you lead a more laid-back lifestyle, opt to adopt an older animal with less energy than a puppy or kitten.  If your lifestyle is active, a young animal might be a great companion to have.

With activity levels, you also need to consider various breeds.  There are many dog breeds that are known for their high energy, even after they grow out of their puppy stage.  Dogs known for athletics and endurance like Cattle Dogs, Coonhounds, Huskies, and Terriers are best for high-energy people.

Financial Responsibility


We’re just going to be upfront: vet bills are expensive.  And necessary.  If you can’t afford to take your pet to the vet, you can’t afford to have a pet.  You need to factor in vet visits, heartworm pills, and any other necessary medicine, as well as the potential for emergency vet visits and surgeries.  Medical care is only part of the financial responsibilities of having a pet, too.  Your monthly grocery bill will go up from pet food… and treats and toys are necessary for exercise and mental stimulation.  Before you adopt your pet, sit down and go through your monthly expenses and factor pet costs into your budget.


With dogs, training is a big part of the relationship between the two of you.  This is where you establish trust and dominance.  Not just that, but you will run into fewer issues with bad behavior and teach your pup basic commands that can be very important to their own safety.  There are many ways you can learn to train your dog, from books to classes taught by animal behavior specialists.  Training takes a lot of hard work and patience, but it makes for a stronger relationship between you and your dog.  While there are plenty of great resources available for training, group class are a great pick as they will help give your dog socialization skills and introduce you to fellow dog lovers!

If you have gone through this list and have considered all these items, then you are ready to share your life with another creature.  If not, take time to examine these tips and make sure you are truly ready to adopt.  It’s important to be as prepared as possible so you can enjoy every day with your new best friend.

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Setting Up a Trust for Your Pet

Photo Credit: Alan Kay

A dear friend of mine just entered hospice care.  After a courageous battle, she is finally surrendering to ovarian cancer.  In a conversation shared yesterday, she told me that she wants her beloved horse Partner to go to one of our mutual friends along with her truck and trailer and money to take care of him for the rest of his life.  When asked if all of this was in writing (my hope was that all of this was already recorded in a notarized legal document), she responded with, “No.”

So, while I’m now aware of my friend’s intentions for her horse, there’s no guarantee that her wishes will be carried out when all is said and done.  She is concerned that her husband might not be happy with her plan (he doesn’t know about it yet, nor does she want him to).  I’m in the process of contacting my friend’s attorney to see if he is available to talk with her and prepare an appropriate document.  In all honesty, I’m afraid that we are running out of time.  I’ve typed something up myself that my friend can sign today with hopes that this will suffice in terms of carrying out her wishes.

My friend’s situation is not unique.  Who the heck knows if we will predecease our pets?  Just as for our children, having certainty about how our animals will be cared for after we pass away not only protects them, but also has the potential to provide us with tremendous peace of mind.  Setting up a legal trust is the best way to make all of this happen.

What is a pet trust?
A pet trust is a legal arrangement that provides for an animal’s care and maintenance in the event of the pet guardian’s disability or death.  The “grantor” (called the “settlor” or “trustor” in some states) is the person who creates the trust.  A “trustee” is designated and holds property such as cash “in trust” for the benefit of the pet. Payments to a designated caregiver(s) are made on a regular basis.
Rules and regulations
It’s now possible to make provisions for a pet through a trust in all 50 states.  Minnesota was the last hold out and, earlier this year, became the final state to pass legislation approving pet trusts.

Rules pertaining to pet trusts vary from state to state.  In most cases the trust terminates when the animal passes away or after 21 years, whichever occurs first.  While this works well for most dogs and cats, it has the potential to be problematic for animals with longer life expectancies such as horses and parrots.  Some states allow a pet trust to continue past the 21-year term if the animal remains alive.  After the pet passes away, any remaining funds are typically distributed amongst heirs as directed by the terms of the trust.

Trust details
When crafting a trust, think about who you might want to care for your pets if you are no longer able to, and then talk to that person(s).  Better to check out the viability of your plan in advance than surprise your friend or relative with such news after you are gone.  While not necessary for the intended caregiver to sign off on the legal document, it is certainly wise to know in advance that you have their buy in.

Instruction within the trust can be very specific, including as much detail about your pet’s care as you like.  For example, you might specify preferred types of food, favorite toys, sleeping arrangements, exercise regimens, and the number of veterinary visits per year.  Consider specifying how much veterinary intervention you would want should illness arise.  Details about care of your pet’s remains following their death can be included.

Think about how much money would be needed to properly care for your pets and how the funds should be distributed to the caregiver(s).  Remember to factor in funds for grooming, boarding, and veterinary costs.

Lastly, identify your pets within the trust with as much detail as possible.  In addition to their names include details such as breed, size, identifying markings and microchip numbers.  Consider including photographs.

Making a trust happen
If you don’t already have a trust prepared for your pets, I encourage you to make this a priority.  Ideally, enlist the help of an attorney who specializes in estate planning.  If this isn’t feasible, type up a document (as I am doing today for my friend) and sign and date it.  It might be a good idea to also have the document signed by a witness or two.  I suspect there are on line templates one can follow as well.

Performing such tasks isn’t much fun, and it’s certainly no fun to think about someone else caring for your beloved animals someday.  Nonetheless, I encourage you to get a trust prepared for your pets.  Guaranteed, after doing so, you will feel some peace of mind having provided this true expression of love for your animals.

Do you have a trust in place for your pets?  If not, will you consider making this happen?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award

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K-9 Cares Academy

K-9 Angels Rescue would like to present:  K-9 Cares Academy!

** Class starts at 7p, meet and greet starts at 6:30p**
5533 Weslayan  Houston TX 77005

This class will be offered the 3rd Thursday of every month, is open to the public, and will cover the following:

– How to have positive, non-judgemental conversations about spaying and neutering and pet care with animal owners.
– What to do when you find a dog.  Debunking shelter myths.
– Some basic pet care words in Spanish to aide in conversations with Spanish speakers.
– Comprehensive listing of low-cost or free services available in the Houston/Harris County areas.

This class and resources will be geared towards dogs, but can be useful for cat lovers as well!

This can be a great opportunity for rescue groups to network and get to know each other.  Please share!

We hope to see you there!

This class will be held the 3rd Thursday of every month.  If you cannot make this date, look out for the next one!

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‘Skinny Vinnie’ Makes His Foster Home A Permanent Residence

'Skinny Vinny' makes his foster home a permanent residence

Sunday, June 19, 2016 06:25PM

A wiener dog that gained national attention for his pudgy frame — and again later for his incredible weight loss — finally has a family.

The husky dachshund arrived at his foster family’s home with the name ‘Fat Vincent’ but after he shed 38 pounds, he earned a new nickname: ‘Skinny Vinny.’

Fat no more

Now it appears that Skinny Vinny’s foster family has decided to keep him around permanently.  The dachshund recently was adopted by them.

Congrats on finding a permanent home, Skinny Vinny!


April 15th 2016

Local News Video   HERE

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