How do I become a veterinary technician or assistant?

Becoming a RVT is easy. You do need to go through some higher education. All the guidelines can be found online at so please go to their website and check out what they allow you to do. Please don’t listen to the people who tell you that you only need an associate degree. I mean, it’s technically true except it’s not “AN” associate degree, it’s “THE” associate degree.

Becoming a CVA is also easy but you have to get the job first and because you only have a high school diploma and no official credentials, finding work as an assistant can be a challenge. Once you do get started, though, you can become eligible for the CVA program.



Recently, one of my friends shared a video from PETA of an undercover sting on a Chinese fur farm. PETA is frankly not my favorite welfare organization because they are not above overzealous propaganda but there was one scene in that video that cut the cake for me.

The camera has zoned in on a pile of skinned animals. Since the skin has been removed, you can see the teeth. The throat of the nearest head is pulsing, which indicates respiration; what looks like an anatomical model is breathing. As the head turns slowly and is laid against the side of the body, you can see that its eyes are blinking. One of the eyes still has fur around it, as does one of the forefeet. It continues to blink. Abruptly, the head flops back to where it was at first.

It was eerie.

I don’t know if these animals’ fur is being sold in California but I can tell you that if this is the case, this situation is part of a much larger problem. China is a difficult country to understand in terms of how it operates but what many people that I encounter don’t realize is that this is the dark side of the U.S. and maybe other countries, not China itself.

The U.S. has a nasty habit of giving its dirty jobs to countries when it is more convenient to do so. The reason that the U.S. is not all a horribly contaminated toxic waste bin is that much of our production has been shunted off to different countries. How much of your shit is “Made in China”? Those had to be made by factories. If the factories weren’t in China, they’d be in the U.S.

Do you know why the U.S. is never going to be able power itself on sustainable energy and resource use? Because we ignore the fact that our ecological footprint extends far beyond U.S. borders in both distance and magnitude. China isn’t polluting the air; we are. I don’t even need to investigate or to research or to pull data from anywhere. The proof is in my house, my friend’s house, my neighbor’s house, my cousin’s house: all the clothes and appliances that say, “Made in China.” Even if I wanted to buy all “Made in U.S.A,” I either don’t have access because all the U.S. manufacturers went out of business or I can’t afford it.

The people who skinned that animal don’t know any better. I would be wasting my breath to tell them about nerve receptors and stress response because if they had enough education to understand what I’m talking about, they wouldn’t be working where they are. I’d be wasting my breath to tell them about morality and ethics and animal souls because China is an atheist country. What they do understand is money. That’s the type of country China is. You ask for electronics, they make electronics. You ask for fur, they get you fur. If you don’t put your foot down about how reliable their electronics are or how they get their fur, they’ll do a 1-year warranty job as cheaply as possible.

For starters, we need to do our part in ending fur import.

I want to stress that it is not necessarily the fur trade itself but industrialization of the fur trade, where it became an assembly line business, that is hurting individual animal welfare. American beef, American leather: we’re always going to use animal products and I don’t think it’s entirely a bad thing. There’s a difference between assembly line production and quality craftsmanship. If someone had a herd of cattle, killed one for butchery (beef), and sold the skin to a tanner or similar craftsman, who made shoes or a purse out of it, I would have no problem with buying those shoes or that purse. I don’t approve of fox farms but if they kept their foxes in a barn instead of a wire cage and shot their foxes in the head instead of skinning them alive, I would probably not be too upset about fur. I don’t like fur terribly much as an ornament but I like the feel and the insulation: but not enough to buy inhumanely produced fur.

Don’t buy real fur unless you have the resources to trace it backwards and make sure that the animal was [raised and] killed in a way that is acceptable to you.

Don’t throw paint at people who are wearing fur or leather. For all you know, they could be wearing fake fur or fair trade, ethically raised and manufactured leather, and they could be trying to help fix the industry in their own ways. If it bothers you, just ask politely and discuss politely. The best way to get someone on your side is to convince them that you’re on their side.

Spread the word about fake fur and how wonderfully realistic it is. I know, I have some. It’s amazingly soft, it looks fabulous, and it wasn’t taken off of a living animal. It might not be as warm as real fur but it’s an A+ alternative for people who like fur for the look and feel.

Raccoons are wild animals, too

Raccoons are remarkably clever critters. They are not domesticated yet they thrive among people. They have hands, like we do, and the will to find food, like bears do. They look like masked bandits and they steal from dumpsters. They’re cute and small, around the size of a cat, so begging is also an option.

Do not make it easy for them.

Raccoons learn fast. If you accidentally leave food out once but never again, they won’t bother you much. If you leave food out often, they’ll come like clockwork. It’s not just that, though. Once these guys figure out that camper baggage is full of goodies and that the campers won’t actually hurt them, they get very bold. I’ve seen campers who brought too much food to fit in their animal-proof food locker, trying to shake off prowling raccoons for a good hour or two before giving up and deciding to take their party elsewhere. I’ve heard of raccoons going into an unattended cooler of food, throwing out the top layer with the condiments and going straight to the bottom. I’ve heard of raccoons breaking into cars to poop on the driver’s seat. I kid you not. These guys are a nuisance.

These problem raccoons have been trained over time. People who deal with them always want a solution but the only really effective one is to not train the raccoons to look for food in human belongings by controlling access. It’s like baby-proofing your house except babies grow out of the urge to put everything in their mouths and wild animals don’t.

The psychology that goes into people intentionally feeding wild animals is really interesting, too. Sometimes, it’s just because begging animals are really good at tugging at heartstrings but probably just as often, it’s because people reward themselves for it. “I’m helping wild animals survive. They need me.” “This wild animal let me feed it. It trusts me. It must be that I’m a special person acknowledged by this wild animal.” When people fall into these psychological traps, they help turn raccoons into the little feral monsters that urban raccoons are.

Aside from the problems that furry little urban marauders cause for people, this can also be a biological problem, affecting the quality of their nutrition, the perpetuation of natural habits (failing to fulfill their role as omnivorous mesopredators), and other aspects of their population health (disease incidence, genetic issues, et cetera). I do think that it’s good when wild animals can persist in cities but the study of how that actually works out for them is a very new branch of research.

In conclusion: FOR THE LAST TIME. Pick up your shit or bolt it down, and don’t feed the wild animals.

How do I become a veterinarian?

I get asked all the time by students of all ages who want to be a vet and to get their degree in California. What should I do? What should I major in?

First, let me address vet assistant and vet tech hopefuls who don’t want to be in higher education for 8-12 years: I will deal with you later.

For the rest of you, there are really 2 routes to vet school, particularly UCD SVM: community college transfer to 4-year university or entering a 4-year uni directly. 4-year as in five years of trying really hard to get a 3.6 GPA.

Community college is really a way to get all your prerequites done at a reasonable price. I recommend spending the bare minimum of time there by taking your public speaking/composition, biology, chem, ochem, calc, stats, physics, and maybe RVT program and NOTHING ELSE (not even IGETC) unless there’s a mind-blowingly fun class. RVT programs have the additional benefit of setting you up for a part-time job that can get you a fabulous letter of rec (now called “evaluation letters” or something). CHECK to make sure you’re taking the right ones: not all science classes are created equal. For example, AP Bio or the equivalent at a community college only counts for BIS 10 at UCD. BIS 10 is completely useless and I quote, “Designed for students not specializing in biology.” Science classes are central to any career with animals so do not cut those corners.

Now read this aloud three times: “Going to UCD as an undergraduate will not improve my chances at the UCD vet school.” I actually had a full ride honors scholarship at Cal Poly Pomona that I turned down (after much deliberation). Their Animal Science major is tailored for pre-vets (Animal Health Sci is their RVT major), the tuition is lower than a UC even without scholarships, and the smaller classes are probably more conducive to higher grades. CPP aside, I’ve glanced through the statistics and applicants from other universities have had about the same probability of getting UCD SVM acceptance as applicants from UCD.

You just need to be sure of two things. You need to be sure that the required classes are offered at the university you want, and you need to be sure that you will be able to pull a 3.5 GPA, give or take a fifth of a point. Besides having awesome grades in the required classes (and their prerequisites, don’t forget those), you can take whatever classes you want as long as your college/uni lets you get a degree with it. Chances are, the unit cap gives you enough space to major in something interesting while completing the minimum requirements for all AVMA vet schools (never hurts to keep your options open).

After you settle your academic strategy, you can start thinking about finding work with veterinarians and maybe other respectable adults such that you can get an evaluation from them. These evaluations are scored, so make sure you’re awesome enough to rate high. It’s also possible to get a supervisor that couldn’t care less and would give you great scores even if you only did the bare minimum but would that be that a gamble you’d want to take?

Getting into vet school is simple in theory but life happens and that’s something else that you should watch out for. Maybe you’ll realize that you actually like plants better, maybe you want to go into research, maybe you love the fluffies but you’re just as interested in human medicine or music or education or business. You don’t have to be a veterinarian to be an intelligent person promoting animal welfare. Welfare is an interdisciplinary field. To achieve what we want, we need people who know a lot (economics, politics, sociology, philosophy, ethics, ecology, physiology, psychology/cognition), people who can reach out (rhetoric, graphics, marketing), and people who can integrate both (canny business people, managers). When you decide that you’re going to gun for vet school, the pressure to beat the competition and the prospects of debt from dealing with rising tuition can get to your head. You need to be sure that you can do this, that you want to do this, and that you have the flexibility needed to achieve your goal: maybe not on schedule but eventually is good enough.

Saving wolves

I realize this isn’t a California thing but I’m sure it’s still a topic of interest.

They’ve got this petition thing going about a Michigan bill threatening the survival of local wolves.

You know what? Let’s be fair and look at this step-by-step.

Why would anybody shoot a wolf?

Profit or fear. Or both. If it’s not for wolf pelts, it’s for the threat they pose to livestock. Doing it for profit is stupid. I admit that I love the feel of fur but that’s why we have super awesome synthetic fur that even experts can’t tell apart from real fur without taking it apart. Fear is something that I can understand. I don’t agree that shooting wolves is the solution, but I understand that when people are trying to make a living off of something vulnerable to attack by wild predators, they can feel very antagonistic to wolves.

Step one. Let us not demonize people who have legitimate reasons to dislike wolves. They are not bloodthirsty if they’re not shooting wolves for the sake of killing. They are doing something that I call Looking Out For Their Interests and we all do it. Also, wolves and dogs are different, so forget about that shooting-the-dog analogy. Those who insist on slandering strangers should at least attempt to sound intelligent—not brainwashed—and take it easy on English grammar (eliminating excess phrasing such as “could potentially” might help but not much). Instead of flying off into picket-and-sign world, let us take a moment and remember that there is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed.

Step two. Let us fill out a bit of background for the problem. It is not healthy for wolves to be hunted, obviously, but it is also not healthy for them to switch from wild prey to domestic prey. The whole wolf-in-the-flock thing is not good for the flock owners and it is not good for the wolves. It is a LOSE-LOSE situation and so far, I only see people coming up with one-way solutions. Good to see people putting their higher intelligence to work. [sarcasm here]

Step three. Let us determine the real problems.

Poachers are theoretically much easier to deal with: crack down on real fur and replace it with quality synthetic fur. Ranchers are more difficult. The problem is that wolves, like many wild animals, are opportunistic feeders. Out of all the things from which they can derive nutrients, they will pick the easiest one to catch.

We’re dealing with animal behavior, wildlife management, public lands management, encroachment on territory, economics, et cetera. We hear about people getting their houses foreclosed and being unable to find somewhere else to go: it probably isn’t much easier to relocate people with herds of livestock, which need lots of grazing area to keep happy. The wolves were there first, and then the people settled there before anyone knew enough to realize what a bad idea that would be. Maybe there isn’t really a better place to go, anyway.

Wild animals don’t understand things like borders. Wolves have territories that they enforce but unless the climate in a certain place is completely uninhabitable for wolves, they’re not going to understand that rancher land is No Wolf’s Land. That’s the problem. We have people raising large herds of ideal prey (domesticated and unfit for survival on their own) right next to wolves’ native lands. It’s not possible to not get problems. The government can uproot a people and reassign their territory but animals don’t use contracts and deeds.

Step four. We need a working solution. All we’ve got right now is sticking “problem” wolves in a zoo and hoping the others don’t learn to do the same. The situation is set up so that there is no way that a wolf that knew a thing about livestock being accessible would choose not to go for it. Wolves are smart. At the same time, it’s not good for the wolf population to habitually go for such easy prey. We like our wolves healthy, right?

I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe we should play the natural selection game and breed domestic livestock that are also fit to defend themselves from wolves. Wolves keep elk herds healthy by culling them so maybe we could let them do the same for us. The thing is that people are so absorbed in numbers that it freaks them out when there’s a wild card messing with their head count. Plus, livestock has been bred to be so manageable that if ranchers just sat back and ate their losses, I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost everything in a few years.

As a founder of CAW, I really want to emphasize that animal welfare is not as simple as “We can’t risk any hurt to nonhumans.” I’m not saying that the picture isn’t black and white. Shooting the wolves is not fair for them but telling ranchers to suck it up is not fair for them, either. I believe that there is no gray area between right and wrong but I also believe that a win-win solution isn’t always feasible. Make no mistake: whatever the best solution is, it’s not going to be invented in an hour by a young blogger. This is kind of an odd post in that I’m not telling you to do this or to do that, but to think for yourself and not sign everything if the only reason is that it has fiery language.


Fladry, or the practice of hanging little flags strung up in a line at wolf eye-level to create a visual barrier has historically been very effective in Eastern Europe, although it’s not established how well it would work on wolves in North America and how long it would last before wolves figure out that it’s easy to get past. It would probably be best combined with periodic patrols (a.k.a. an actual barrier instead of a psychological one) to reinforce it. Just my two cents.

Vaccine reactions

There are a lot of people who want to know just why they should vaccinate their animals. and Aimee’s Rabies Exemption Law are both very, um, zealous examples. In California, we even have the Hagman bill allowing dogs who get sick from rabies vaccines to get a signed doctor’s note. (Yes, it must be a doctorate in veterinary medicine.)

The Hagman bill is proof that vaccines are dangerous, right? Why should we risk any vaccination at all? For one, putting your pet on titers* is much more expensive than getting a vaccine if your pet is like most others, not to mention that there are a lot of restrictions on the freedom of dogs who aren’t vaccinated against rabies. For another, an animal without a vaccine is a health risk, especially with zoonotic diseases like rabies and lepto. You don’t want to be the owner of a dog who bit somebody and didn’t have rabies shots on file. Plus, reactions are rare.

Most cats and dogs do not develop painful conditions from vaccines developed for them. Cats do react more than dogs do and as far as anyone knows, it’s a species thing. The key word is non-adjuvant: try to stick with these types of vaccines if you have a kitty. Adjuvant-ed vaccines are more effective at what they’re supposed to do but cats seem to be sensitive to them. Now. Reactions that can kill will probably happen while your vet is still talking to you so if they do happen, your vet should be able to do something to save your pet’s life right away. If you’re really worried, watch for the first 3 hours, keep an eye out for the next 21 hours. If 24 hours and all’s well, nothing freaky should happen afterward as a result of the vaccine.

One preventative step that you can try is spacing out your vaccines (if you’re doing the whole catalogue). The only issue with that is that you’re paying for more than one visit so it really depends on how worried you are about vaccine reactions and what your budget is. Of course, if you’re getting only rabies because that’s what the law requires yet your dog still reacts, this suggestion is null.

Also, for the most part, we won’t look at you too funny if you have an indoors-only cat who hates the clinic like nothing else and decide not to vaccinate. I know a vet who has one of those madly fractious cat and forgoes its shots because it ain’t worth it. Is it a health risk? Oh, yeah. But if the law doesn’t require it, it’s entirely up to you and your wallet.

So after your pet’s gotten a shot, any shot, what should you look out for? Drowsiness is normal. Call your vet if the skin where the vaccine was injected looks red or swollen or seems itchy to the animal. (“Call your vet” as in “Take two and call me in the morning.”) Get your dog to emergency if your pet breaks out in hives, gets tummy upset, or starts puking (your vet may use the word anaphylactic).

Now, you should kind of have some idea of what the risks and benefits of these vaccines are. If your vet isn’t talking to you about them, you should probably ask. At the end of the day, it comes down to what is the best for your pet. Some pets really don’t need some of the shots that your hyper-vigilant vet might strongly recommend. Some of your pets could do with some of the shots that all your animal rights activist friends are vehemently opposed to. Some of the diseases that routine vaccines prevent may never show up but if they do, the hospital fees that you end up paying may cost more than the fees for regular vaccines for fourteen years. You should find out first whether your pet must not have vaccines before you decide what’s the best health plan for your pet.

*Titers test the levels of antibodies to determine whether the dog is capable of handling a certain disease without vaccines. It’s sort of like skipping measles vaccinations you’ve had the disease before. This doesn’t work for all diseases like it does for measles so your dog would need to get titers regularly for life. Not a cheap option.

Puppy’s first shots, Part 2 (other vax)

Most non-core vaccines do not give complete protection but the recommended ones do give very good protection. For example, the lepto vaccine covers the four most common strains of leptospirosis. Your dog can still contract the disease but the likelihood is much lower.


(If you ever want to annoy a vet who seems really uptight, spell Bordetella as bordatella.)

This vaccine is a bit more commonly known as the kennel cough shot. It treats CIRD, which can come from pretty much anywhere. Kennel cough is kind of like any human cold. If you live where you’re touching things that untold numbers of other people touch every day, you are much more likely to get sick than the man living on his 50 acre farm 10 miles from the edge of town. Stressed out dogs who get stuck in an enclosed space with lots of other stressed dogs for a long time are at risk for kennel cough. Dogs who stay home except to go jogging are not likely to start coughing. One cough or sneeze is normal but if your dog suddenly starts coughing and sneezing regularly like it’s got a cold, you should get it checked out.

Any dog or puppy from the pound, an ASPCA shelter, or comes from an unknown background should get this vaccine. If you board your dog at a kennel, your dog should get this vaccine and a lot of kennels ask that your dog get the shot every six months and at least a week before your dog joins the kennel. If you take your dog to the groomer—as in drop off in the morning for a full day’s treatment and not as in a quick nail trim—it’s a good idea to get the shot.

This shot gets a one month booster followed by yearly boosters. If your puppy is definitely going to benefit from this vaccine, take the shots with your DAP shots except instead of boosting every three years, boost every year.  The vaccine takes about four days to go into effect so plan ahead. Unfortunately, this is not on the three year calendar but it’s not required so if your dog isn’t at risk, you’re good to go.


Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease caused by bacterial infection. “Zoonotic” means basically that you and any other pets can get the disease from whoever catches it first. Infected dogs get [kidney/liver] [damage/failure] (circle one).

The bacteria lives in the bladder of an animal, which urinates, contaminating ground water, and then somebody drinks it somehow. The bacteria is everywhere because animals have been urinating since forever. The major source of infection is standing water because running water and salt water is supposed to reduce the risk of infection enough that most beaches are safe but I’ve heard of a dog getting infected from playing at a certain beach, the name of which escapes me.

Lepto is recommended for outdoorsy types like ranch dogs and hiking buddies. If you live in an area with a lot of wildlife, which might not be bears and mountain lions so much as raccoons and opossums, you probably want to think about getting the shot.

If you want the shot for your puppy, the first shot should be no earlier than 12 weeks (coordinate with your second last puppy DAP), followed by a booster at 15-17 weeks (your last puppy DAP), and boost every year. I believe this vaccine takes about a week to go into effect so again, plan ahead.

Canine Influenza

My notes say that dogs get CI from traveling to events such as national meets. For example, a specialty competition like “best labrador retriever in the U.S.” or enzootic racing, cough, greyhound, cough.

First shot is no earlier than 6 months so make sure your vet checked your puppy’s teeth. If your puppy still hasn’t started growing adult canine teeth, you should not be getting a canine influenza vaccine. Second shot is one month later and the following boosters are yearly.


Where I live, we have western fence lizards everywhere. I once caught one and raised it in a little aquarium.  I had a labrador retriever who really did not get along with reptiles. He once killed one of the little lizards and I felt bad but I got over it. Now I feel bad again because according to research, those shy little guys are what keep us and our tick-infested mutts from getting Lyme Disease.

Therefore, if you live in a tick-happy environment but no WFLs, you might consider getting this vaccination.  Puppies have to be at least 12 weeks old to get the shot and the scheduling is a little trickier so pay attention. First, figure out when ticks are in season. If your puppy turns 12 weeks at least 2 weeks before tick season, perfect: the second shot is just before tick season and the first shot is 2-4 weeks before that. Booster every year. If you’ve timed it right, your dog will be vaccinated right before tick season every year.


There is only one rattlesnake vaccine available. It is only for the western diamondback. It does not guarantee that your dog can walk away from a western diamondback bite with no problems.

We do not recommend this vaccine for owners who seem to think that this vaccine makes the dog immune to snake bites. It may buy you time to rush your dog to the ER but if you decide not to do so simply because your dog is “vaccinated”, that worries us.

I am not very familiar with how vaccination protocol goes for this vaccine but I believe you can find more info at Red Rock Biologics, Rattlesnake Vaccines.

You might want to try rattlesnake aversion classes instead. You need to be mentally prepared for these classes. They are not screwing around. The dogs are equipped with shock collars set to full strength (or as high as it can go without causing lasting physical effects to the dog) and put in a room with snakes that have had their venom glands removed. Every time the dogs go near a snake, they get zapped. The goal is for you to be able to call your dog from the other side of a snake and see your dog give the snake a wide berth while coming to you. Let’s be honest. This can traumatize your dog, especially if it’s suddenly getting shocked every time it wants to come over and it doesn’t realize that the snake is the key factor that results in the pain.

I did get an idea from hearing about these classes. If your dog has extremely high prey drive for chickens and you own chickens, you can do a modified version of this training without traumatizing your dog. For one, the factor is going to be really obvious when it gets shocked for running at chickens of its own accord, so the experience shouldn’t affect your dog’s recall skills at all. It might be traumatized towards chickens but it won’t be traumatized towards you. I’m not saying you have to do this but it’s an option to keep in mind when you feel desperate.


All you need to know about this vaccine is that it is not recommended. It used to be core and now it is not.

Puppy’s first shots, Part 1 (core vax)

Puppies are wonderful. Puppies are cute. Puppies are little bundles of God-given therapy. Even for people who are allergic to fur, there are Bichon Frise puppies. A lot of people have raised or will raise a puppy sometime in their life, whether as a companion, as a playmate for their kids, to practice before having kids, et cetera. No matter what category you fit into, you want to make sure your dog grows up happy and healthy… and within the county rabies regulations.

What kind of shots do dogs need?


Experienced dog owners may know about the DHPP-LC, which includes Distemper, hepatitis (adenovirus), parvo, parainfluenza, lepto, and coronavirus. The DA2P includes Distemper, adenovirus-2 (which covers adenovirus-1), and parvo. Parainfluenza and lepto shots are can now be taken by choice and the coronavirus shot is now not recommended. More on those in part 2.

For an older puppy or dog, the first DAP shot needs to be followed in 3-5 weeks by a booster, which needs to be followed in one year by a second booster, after which the dog will only need a booster every three years. Once upon a time, shots were given every year but thanks to research, the needle jabbing doesn’t need to be quite as often as it used to be. Yay!

The law doesn’t require DAP, so why should your dog get it?

DAP protects against common, easy-to-treat diseases that can kill your dog. If your dog contracts yet survives one of these diseases, symptoms will likely persist for the rest of its life.

Why do younger puppies get 2-3 monthly shots?

Puppies first get maternal antibodies from their mother’s milk. These antibodies decrease as they are weaned. Maternal antibodies interfere with the success of a vaccination until the puppy is about 12 weeks old, give or take a few weeks. Ideally, the vaccine gets phased in as the maternal protection gets phased out. Although the window of actual vulnerability is not very long, the maternal protection sometimes ends very early and sometimes very late. This leaves a huge window of potential vulnerability so your vet can’t guarantee that the first booster will “take” until the puppy is about 16-17 weeks old. That’s why vets recommend doing an 8, 12, 16-week series.

Your vet may recommend that you don’t go on walks and such until a week after the last of the 4-week shots. This is called the parvo quarantine and it’s also related to the window of vulnerability. If you live in a place with a lot of dogs of unknown disease protection, the puppy does not leave the house. If you live in Beverly Hills and everyone on the street are Jennifer Aniston types, people who can afford personal trainers and spoil their dogs, letting your puppy walk around a bit is probably not risky at all. If you live among normal people in the middle, do a head count and decide whether you think the neighborhood dogs are vaccinated or not.

If you bring in a 6 week old puppy, be prepared for three boosters. It’s up to you to wait until your puppy is 11-14 weeks old to get the first shot but it’s better to start as soon as you get your puppy, just in case.


Chances are that the law requires you to get a rabies certificate and a dog license. Canine rabies technically doesn’t exist in the U.S. so why should you get one?

Veterinarians are required to strongly advise that you take the rabies shot. If you decline, and if your dog somehow manages to bite someone who doesn’t know whether your dog has rabies or not, shit hits the fan.

  1. Bitten person goes to a doctor.
  2. Doctor files a bite report.
  3. Police check up on the dog: no dog license means no rabies certificate but they can still ask your vet if you just didn’t bother getting a license.
  4. Police talk to your vet: vet’s record says, “client declined vaccine,” meaning that the vet played the public health official rôle and can’t do any more for your dog.
  5. Police quarantine your dog for 10 days, fine you $3000, and may euthanize your dog.
  6. If you’re not very lucky and your dog gets put to sleep, you have to deal with the legal process while facing the fact that you sentenced your own man’s best friend to death by refusing to give the dog a really cheap vaccine.

Besides that, your dog can get non-canine rabies from rats, bats, raccoons, people, et cetera, and that’s really what you’re vaccinating against.

In California, you may legally own a dog that has not been vaccinated for rabies if your dog has a note. Essentially. It makes life more complicated, though, because only dogs with certain conditions are allowed to have their doctor’s note and there are a lot more rules and risks for owners to remember when walking around with an unprotected dog.

We recommend taking the first rabies shot with the “last” puppy DAP (16-17 weeks), followed by a booster with the One Year Later DAP, followed by the three year boosters. See how nicely it lines up with DAP shots?

Now, what do shots look like?

It’s one thing to tell a kid to be brave and hold still.

Telling dogs is a whole other cookie.

Rule number one is to avoid being bitten. If the vet plus staff get bitten, we have to follow through whatever our protocol is and sometimes that involves a wave of bureaucratic procedural messiness that you don’t want to deal with. We don’t want to make you deal with that, either. We know that people on YouTube love to jeer at “inept” or “fearful” vets and vet techs but I promise, your dog is smelling the insecurity of a previous client, not your vet. Remember, most of us are confident by our third day of hands-on experience but the dog has no idea why we’re poking it with needles. Guess who’s freaking out?

Rule two is to restrain the animal exactly as much as necessary: no more, no less. Canine vaccines are not for humans and don’t come without risks for their own patients, either, so we try to avoid accidentally injecting ourselves or injecting into a dog where we don’t want to inject. Sometimes, a dog will be perfectly calm with just a precautionary hand resting on the neck and some treats for good measure… but completely flips out if a stranger gets any more intimate. Other times, a dog needs to be muzzled and held down by two people. We do what we can and try to make a note of what works and what doesn’t.

Most shots are given subQ (subcutaneous) or intermuscular in a thigh or shoulder, which basically means that we make sure we’re not sticking the needle into veins before delivering the shot. You might see us pull up the skin into a tent and insert the needle into the “door” of the tent. You might not. If you really pay attention, you will see us draw back the needle very quickly before pushing down the plunger. What we’re doing is checking for blood and if we draw blood, we’ve gone into a vein and we have to pull out and retry.

Your puppy may scream during this process, depending on how nervous it is. We can’t do anything about this because
1) your puppy has a personality and sometimes, that’s just how it goes, and
2) if we’re having a certain degree of difficulty just getting one shot in, we don’t want to do two shots just to sedate the poor thing, plus we have to supervise it for another hour or so, waiting for it to wake up and making sure it’s O.K.
You, however, can be a huge help.

One major thing to prepare your dog for shots and just going to the vet in general is to get your dog used to touching and poking, starting as young as possible. The basics of mimicking your vet are running your hands over your dog’s ribs, massaging the belly, playing with toes, sticking your fingers into the ears gently, holding the mouth open to look at teeth (using a finger brush and brushing teeth doubles as starter preventative dental care), and lots of hugs. I hope you don’t need an excuse to give a warm puppy lots of hugs but if you do, there you have it.

Also, ask if your vet allows “happy” visits, which goes like this: Puppy goes to vet clinic. Puppy is scared but Puppy gets lots of love and treats. Puppy starts to think maybe the vet clinic isn’t so scary. Puppy goes home.

To be continued.


Just what the internet needs: a new blog. YEAH. YOU HEARD ME. THE WORLD HAS NOT ENOUGH. (Pat yourself on the back if you get the reference.)

The founders of CAW were driving in the desert in the middle of nowhere, talking about veterinary medicine and PR. We were not even veterinary students (yet) but we did have a healthy chunk of experience with veterinarians as both clients and interns. We talked about how easily the public could be misled to think silly things like “There’s pus in our milk! Boo-hiss-y!” and how that was a shame. So. Don’t think silly things just because someone else told you so! Honestly, if that’s all you ever get out of this blog, we’re pretty happy.