Many people are confused about what it is, why it's compulsory, when it can be given, whether blood tests are necessary and what the potential side effects might be.
We know the feeling.
For the past ten years, all our dogs have had the rabies vaccine - so we're aware of exactly what needs to happen.
But the first time we looked into it, we found the regulations really confusing. It has all been simplified since then, but it's still not always clear.
So, we decided to put this information page together in order that hopefully, you won't be as confused as we were!
By the end of this article you will know definitively what the answers are, and you'll be able to balance the pros and cons so you can make the best travel decision possible for your pet.
We would also encourage you to discuss the options with your own veterinarian who knows your dog, knows what the legal requirements are, and can advise about the potential problems.
Please note: these regulations include all dogs and cats, including service animals.
It's not just a mindless regulation. Human and canine rabies are almost always fatal. But they've been more or less completely wiped out in most European countries by the large-scale vaccination of dogs, cats and ferrets. Europe, understandably, wants to keep it that way.
If you intend to take your dog, cat or ferret (!) to Italy, whether it's a short trip or to live there full-time, you'll need to have either a European Union Veterinary Certificate (coming from the United States) or a pet passport (from within any European Union member state).
As part of the conditions of both, the animal is required by law to have had a rabies vaccine. The shot must be administered and signed off by a registered veterinarian.
For a first inoculation, more than three weeks must elapse before the date of travel. For a booster shot, travel can take place immediately, provided the booster is given before the previous vaccine date has expired.
It's actually an anti-rabies vaccination. It protects your pet against rabies, and at the same time makes sure s/he cannot transmit it to any other animal or person.
It's given by a needle placed under the animal's skin, usually in the fleshy part of the neck between the shoulders. It doesn't hurt the animal any more than injections hurt you - it's just a pin-prick.
It's an inactive vaccine, which means the disease itself is killed and therefore not infectious.
In some countries, including the USA, it's mandatory and routine for dogs to have the rabies vaccine. In others, including the UK, it's not compulsory for animals permanently resident there.
However, it is compulsory for all dogs, cats and ferrets travelling within Europe, including Italy.
If you're travelling to Italy from a country defined as at high risk of rabies, the legislation is different. In that case, the animal must be given the anti-rabies vaccine and, after 30 days, have a blood test.
Providing the test shows an acceptable level of rabies anti-bodies, the animal can enter Italy once three calendar months have elapsed from the day the blood was taken.
N.B. This applies only to animals coming into Italy from a high risk country.
For a current list of "high risk" areas, see this link.
There are some possible side effects from the rabies vaccine, although none of our dogs have ever suffered from any of them. The most common are:
For that reason, most vets will suggest you wait at the surgery with your pet for an hour or so after the inoculation has been given, even if it's a booster.
Keep an eye out for two or three days afterwards and, if there are any unusual symptoms, take your dog or cat back to the vet immediately.
If there are any signs that your pet dog or cat has reacted badly to the rabies vaccine, on no account should it be given again. The result could be fatal.
EU Regulation 998/2003: "Non-commercial movement of pet animals". This is the law governing all European Union countries, including Italy. Be aware though - it's not an easy read! It's a long document, which will open on a new page.
World Health Organisation: "Frequently asked questions about rabies".
American Veterinary Medical Association: "State Rabies Laws".