The vaccinations already are required in some cities and counties. This is the first time there's a rule at the state level that mandates that all dogs, cats and ferrets receive the vaccine.
The rule makes the rabies vaccine mandatory, but it will be up to local agencies to decide how it will be enforced.
The idea is to protect pets and their owners from the rabies virus, which is still found in the wild.
"It's one of the most fatal disease for humans," said Ron Wohrle, a veterinarian for the Washington state Department of Health. "The best measure to protect ourselves and our pets is to have them vaccinated."
The issue left to resolve is how the vaccination rule should be enforced, including whether violators will face a penalty. Those decisions are being left to each jurisdiction, Wohrle said.
It is likely proof of vaccination would be asked after a pet attacks or when an owner applies for pet licenses, he said.
Vaccinations can be administered by any veterinarian. Cost varies. Pets can get their first shot when they are 12 weeks old. A booster shot should be administered one year after the first vaccination and then three years after that, Wohrle said.
Cases of rabies in animals have been rare in Washington, but the risk of exposure has increased. Pets are now more mobile than ever, traveling with their owners to other counties -- and even other countries -- where rabies may be more common.
The last known case of rabies in a domestic animal in the state was a cat in 2002, but the disease is still found primarily in bats. Over the past eight years, Snohomish County typically has seen about two bats each year reported with rabies, Wohrle said.
Bats can transmit the disease to pets and livestock, including horses and llamas.
The Everett Animal Shelter already is complying with the new rule, but discussion is ongoing over enforcement, spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.
All animals adopted from the shelter receive the vaccines, she said. The shelter does not provide vaccinations to pets brought in by members of the public.
Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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