The ratio of pet dogs in Japan that have received rabies vaccinations has fallen to around 70 percent in recent years from nearly 100 percent, according to government data, with a lack of reported cases likely leading to diminishing fears of a disease that is almost always fatal.

In a case that highlighted the decline in the percentage, which stood at 70.9 percent in fiscal 2022 in the latest data made available by the health ministry, a dog that attacked a dozen people, including children, in February in Gunma Prefecture had not been vaccinated against rabies.

"I thought vaccinations were bad for the body," the owner of the dog said, explaining one of his dogs had died following an inoculation.

Photo shows dogs at an animal shelter in Hofu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in October 2023. (Kyodo)


Under Japan's Rabies Prevention Law, owners are required to vaccinate their dogs against rabies once a year, with those who fail to do so fined up to 200,000 yen ($1,300).

The country has not seen active cases in humans since 1956 and in animals since 1957.

Almost all pet dogs were vaccinated against rabies around the mid-1990s, but the rate sunk below 80 percent in fiscal 2000, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The total number of dogs registered with local governments in the past 20 years stands at around 6 million.

Naoto Ito, a professor at Gifu University who specializes in zoonotic diseases, said the lack of infections and the proliferation of misleading information online regarding the effectiveness and safety of inoculations are responsible for the fall in vaccination rates.

The likelihood of rabies entering Japan remains low due to strict quarantine measures. However, the spread of the disease in 2013 among ferret badgers in Taiwan, where there were no confirmed rabies cases for over 50 years, underscores the need to be vigilant.

"There are many unknown factors when assessing risks," as wildlife is not monitored sufficiently in Japan, Ito said.

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