Protecting Dogs From Vaccine Reactions

Written by Jan on October 8, 2009 – 12:01 am

yorkies croppedUnless a vaccine reaction is strong and immediate, most people – and a shocking number of vets – don’t connect a new or worsened health problem to a shot, let alone report the reaction. The 2007 World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Vaccination Guidelines say there is “gross under-reporting of vaccine-associated adverse events which impedes knowledge of the ongoing safety of these products.”  Former FDA head, Dr. David Kessler, says “only about 1% of serious events are reported to the FDA.”  He was referring to drugs for people; reporting of pet drug reactions is likely to be far worse.

How prevalent are reactions?

In 2007, approximately 6500 reactions were reported for the canine rabies vaccine alone. If as suggested only 1% of reactions were reported, approximately 650,000 reactions likely occurred.  And there are still more than a dozen other vaccines causing reactions.

In my article Vaccinating Small Dogs: Risks Vets Aren’t Revealing, I summarized a shocking 2005 study which reported: Young adult small-breed neutered dogs given multiple vaccines per office visit are at greatest risk of an adverse reaction within 72 hours after vaccination … and the risk increases with each subsequent vaccine given. Reactions studied ranged from hives to shock and even death. Although the less a dog weighs, the more likely the reaction — all dogs are at risk when multiple vaccines are given.

Please read Vaccinating Small Dogs now to determine if and when your dog is at risk, which reactions were reported and more. Really. Read it now!

What can you do to keep your dog from reacting badly to a vaccine?

The study’s researchers recommended only that your vet reveal the risks before vaccinating.  (They’re already supposed to do that and are not doing a very good job. Have you been warned?)

There are better ways to help keep your dog from experiencing a vaccine reaction. I’ve asked vet friends for suggestions for making vaccinating safer:

  • Vaccine labels say to vaccinate “healthy animals only.”  Whenever possible, postpone vaccinating pets experiencing any health problem – including allergies, skin problems, intestinal problems or stress. Don’t vaccinate dogs with autoimmune immune problems, cancer, seizures or other serious conditions. Never vaccinate a dog undergoing anesthesia, or in the several weeks before and after surgery or moving to a new home.
  • Don’t automatically re-vaccinate.  Get a simple blood test called a titer test.  Repeated doses of the same vaccine increase the risk of reaction. In another study, the risk of allergic reactions has been reported to increase after three or four injections of a vaccine.
  • Stop giving unnecessary vaccines.  Parvovirus, distemper and adenovirus-2 are the only shots recommended for all dogs by virtually every veterinary organization and school. All others are for special circumstances only; many are ineffective and may cause reactions (including death).
  • Whenever possible, vaccinate under the supervision of a holistic vet trained in homeopathy. At least, give the homeopathic remedy Thuja (Thuya) when vaccinating with most vaccines. Use Lyssin for the rabies vaccine. If your vet isn’t skilled in homeopathy, you can get instructions and remedies at naturalrearing.com.
  • NEVER allow your vet to give multiple vaccines during one visit – especially to your small or medium-sized dogs. Important: a combination shot (like DHLPP)  goes in with just one needle prick but contains multiple vaccines – sometimes as many as 7.  Add Bordetella and you’re up to 8.
  • “Vaccines should not be given more often than every other week, even when different vaccines are being given,” says WSAVA. Three to four weeks in between is even better.
  • Dr. Patricia Jordan, vaccination expert and author of Mark of the Beast says to ask for a thimerasol-free (mercury-free) vaccine.   Merial makes a thimerasol-free one- and three-year rabies vaccine. Look for “TF” in the brand name.  http://imrab.us.merial.com/imrab/offerings.shtml
  • Insist your vet use monovalent, or at most, bivalent vaccines – even if you have to buy them yourself. Monovalent vaccines contain only one bacteria or virus. Bivalent vaccines contain 2. (See our article on combo shots for links to monovalent and bivalent shots.)
  • When possible, vaccinate puppies and test for strong titers as long as possible prior to spaying or neutering. (Make sure growth plates are mature before the surgery.)
  • Avoid vaccinating animals with histories of vaccine reactions. Report any reactions to your vet so you’ll have a record. Apply for a health exemption to rabies vaccination.
  • Take great care when vaccinating animals from breeds or families (especially littermates) with known reactions.
  • Don’t vaccinate puppies under 8 weeks of age, except when faced with an epidemic. (Early vaccination is dangerous and may not work because of maternal immunity.) Pet vaccination expert Dr. Jean Dodds’ protocol begins at 9 weeks. Dr. Ron Schultz recommends beginning at 15 weeks, giving one shot of DAP (distemper/adenovirus-2/parvovirus), then testing titers two weeks later.
  • Avoid the leptospirosis vaccine (the “L” in DHLPP combos).  WSAVA says: “This product is associated with the greatest number of adverse reactions to any vaccine.” The 2006 American Animal Hospital Association Canine Vaccine Task Force reported: “Routine vaccination of toy breeds should only be considered in dogs known to have a high exposure risk.” Vets and breeders suggest the incidence of “severe anaphylaxis” in puppies under 12 weeks of age and small-breed dogs is high. I’ll add that they should make sure that the vaccine protects against local strains of disease. It often doesn’t.
  • Most veterinary drugs are weight dependent, but vaccines aren’t. A toy breed puppy and an adult Mastiff get the same size shot. Many vets believe this causes reactions in small dogs, so they split the dose. Vets can legally split any vaccine except rabies.When interviewing pet vaccination expert Dr. Jean Dodds for my book, she told me that a split dose works well, and that the USDA told her that manufacturers make vaccines up to ten times more powerful than necessary (because vaccines are harmless?). There’s also supporting evidence for splitting doses from numerous human studies. To ease your own mind, two weeks after the final shot, have a titer test done to make sure the shot gave immunity.Why don’t drug manufacturers offer split doses for small dogs? Dr. Dodds told me: “You cannot change dosing label recommendations without another new licensing trial, so that will never happen. Except for rabies, where the whole vaccine must be administered by law, any veterinarian can elect to give less than a full dose to a small or very small dog, as long as there is written informed consent on file from the owner.”If you want a split dose, but your vet fears it isn’t safe or worries that you might file a complaint if it doesn’t work, offer to sign that “letter of informed consent.”I asked Dr. Dodds for clarification: “For dogs of breed types weighing less than 12 pounds as adults, in parvovirus 2-c [CPV 2-c] endemic areas, I’d give a half dose of parvo vaccine at 6 weeks. Then for all parvo endemic and non-endemic areas, …  3 weeks later [give] a half dose of distemper + parvo, then repeat it 3-4 weeks later. Then give rabies 3-4 weeks after that. You don’t need to measure titers after that, as this protocol should work well. For larger pups, the dose should be a full 1 ml each time.”WSAVA, however, warns: “The volume (e.g. 1.0 ml) as recommended by the manufacturer generally represents the minimum immunising dose, therefore the total amount must be given.”  Clearly, experts disagree.If I wanted to give a split dose, I’d prove the immunity by giving a titer test two weeks after the final shot. It may not be necessary but it would put my mind at ease.
  • Drs. Stephen Blake and Dr. Jordan both recommend giving colostrum when vaccinating (or forever). My dogs get a medical grade super colostrum called IgG 2000 DF from Xymogen.com. I take it myself.  You can also find collostrum at Dr. Blake’s website or at your health food store. Dr. Jordan also suggests you give Pawier vitamins when vaccinating. She adds: “All of the dogs that Dr. Blake has seen with parvo and distemper and kennel cough were all VACCINATED dogs….the vaccine is not a guarantee, that is the point.” Dr. Blake told me that himself.

As an added precaution, vaccinate your dog early in the day (preferably when the clinic will be open for a few days afterwards). Stay near the clinic for several hours and watch for changes in health or behavior after the shot throughout the day. Check for reactions during the night.

Report all reactions to your vet immediately, and ask him/her to report the reaction to the manufacturer.  Check to see that the vet does (because much of the time they won’t.)  Call the manufacturer yourself. If your dog has trouble breathing or moving, or if he gets hives or his face swells, get to an emergency vet right away.  If you’re worried about your dog at all, call your vet or an emergency clinic and ask if you should come in. (Make sure you know how to get to your nearest emergency clinic — just in case.)

Report every health change within six weeks after the shot even if you think it’s not related. (Okay, a broken leg won’t be a reaction, but trouble walking or a change in behavior may be.) Ask the vet to report the reaction to the manufacturer and follow up! Get a copy of your dog’s file and keep it safe. This is important in case you ever want an exemption to vaccination for rabies. Learn more about reporting reactions at my Vaccinating Dogs web page.

Sign up for notification of  future articles and our free dog care e-newsletter (delivered quarterly). Follow K9Author at Twitter.  Please bookmark this article and send it to friends. And leave us a comment or ask a question.

Related articles:

Vaccinating Small Dogs: Risks Vets Aren’t Revealing
Combination Shots for Dogs: Weapons of Over-Vaccination
Is Your Dog’s Vet a Vaccination Expert?
Vaccinating Unhealthy Pets: Beware Reactions & Vaccine Failure

Vaccinating Dogs: 10 Steps to Eliminating Unnecessary Shots

Titer Test: Don’t Vaccinate Your Dog Unnecessarily
Dog Flu Vaccine: Do You Really Need a Shot for the H3N8 Canine Virus?
Treating Adverse Vaccine Reactions by Jean Dodds, DVM

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119 Comments to “Protecting Dogs From Vaccine Reactions”


  1. Jan Says:

    Mary, I can’t think of anything worse your vet could have done. Your 6 your old dog doesn’t need “yearly vaccinations,” or probably any at all. And to give so many in one day, that’s horrible. Did your dog get Lepto as well? It’s especially dangerous.

    Please read all but the beginning of this. http://www.dogs4dogs.com/blog/2010/12/02/what-to-do-when-your-dog-has-a-vaccine-reaction/ Especially report the death to the maker of the vaccine. They should at least compensate you for any vet bills.

    Fire your vet. Tell your friends These are the questions your vet should have asked before vaccinating: http://truth4pets.org/question-before-vaccination/

    By the way, there’s a story on CNN today about paralysis caused by a virus afflicting children. That’s the problem with vaccines. Or one of them.

  2. Amy Says:

    I just purchased an 8 week old pug. I am anti vaccinations of all kinds, but prior to me purchasing him, he was vaccinated with the following:

    Distemper
    Adenovirus 2
    Parvovirus
    Parainfluenza

    He is displaying very aggressive behavior, constantly wanting to bite everyone, growling, etc. My first thought was vaccine injury.

    I am feeding him organic food, probiotics and spirulina, but is there anything that I can do at this point? These vaccines were given on 12/18/14.

    Thank you- Amy

  3. Jan Says:

    Hi Amy. Your dog may well be experiencing a vaccine reaction. Or he may be hurting from the injection. You can see if the latter is the problem by searching his body with your hands. To treat a reaction, your best bet is a holistic vet, particularly one trained in homeopathy. Find referral lists here: http://truth4pets.org/vets/ In my experience, most conventional vets will either deny that it’s a reaction or be at a loss at how to treat it. Also, report the reaction to the manufacturer. http://truth4pets.org/reporting-reactions/

  4. Vaccinations - YorkieTalk.com Forums - Yorkshire Terrier Community Says:

    […] – Why Vets Are Pushing Back – Dogs Naturally Magazine This blog has some great info too…. How to Avoid Vaccination Reactions in Dogs | Truth4Dogs __________________ B.J.mom to : Jake J.J. Jack & Joey, momma misses you….. The joy […]

  5. Annie Says:

    My beautiful English Springer is 9 1/2 years ,her name is Molly. She does have seizures for the past 7 years which were mostly mild. My husband and I plan to go to Florida for vacation and decided to board Molly. I took her to the vet for a rabies shot and a rabies shot only. The vet tried to give other shots , however, I said NO. Well, about three days after the shot she stopped eating and drinking and the vomiting started. We rushed her back to the vet for IV for fluids. Now, I was told that she has pancreactris and very sick. Ok course, the vet claims no connection to the vaccine. Please pray for Molly that she recovers-two weeks and still not better.

  6. Jan Says:

    Annie, the rabies vaccine — and others — should never be given to a dog who has seizures. One of the known reactions to the vaccine is seizures.

    Fire your vet. He/she should have known better. And should admit that the vaccine caused the problem. The vet is either badly informed or cowardly.

    You know you can’t board her, right? Find a more competent vet to treat her. Please read this http://www.dogs4dogs.com/blog/2010/12/02/what-to-do-when-your-dog-has-a-vaccine-reaction/ and be sure to report the reaction to the manufacturer. And tell your vet to do the same. There’s a small chance that they’ll help with vet bills.

    Wishing you and Molly the best.

  7. Raised Bump on hip - Page 2 - YorkieTalk.com Forums - Yorkshire Terrier Community Says:

    […] your dog it can't hurt to get multiple opinions from different vets to make your final decision. How to Avoid Vaccination Reactions in Dogs | Truth4Dogs Vaccination Side Effects in Yorkies | eHow Vaccines and your Yorkies Anaphylaxis – Allergic […]

  8. Lyn Says:

    My four and a half year old Australian Shepherd / Chow mis developed autoimmune disease approximately 7 weeks after receiving a rabies shot. He went from mile and half long walks a day, to not wanting to eat one night, to very weak the next day. Normal vet set him home as his red blood cell count was still acceptable. The next morning he could barely walk. His red blood cell count fell to 13. Within a few days and two blood transfusion later, he had to be put to sleep. He had no health issues prior to this. His blood was clotting fiercely, feet swelling, platelets fell, red blood cells kept falling to 12/13. ER vet felt the reaction could not have happened so far after receiving the rabies shot?

  9. Jan Says:

    Lyn, this reaction sounds familiar. If you can bear it, you might read Smokey’s story. http://truth4pets.org/tag/immune-mediated-hemolytic-anemia/

    Do you know if any other vaccines were given at the same time? Did the vet report the death? Did you? A death that is even suspected to be vaccine related is supposed to be reported but vets seldom bother. Because reactions are seldom reported, vets can pretend that vaccines are safe.

    Did you have a necropsy done? That’s the only way to know for sure. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  10. Marie Says:

    My dog is a Border Collie mix and will be 13 years of age this September. She has not received any vaccinations since October 2014 until today, April 13, 2016. I took her to her vet to get a nasal Bordetella vaccine in order to get her groomed since her fur has become so very thick from my taking her completely off of dog food and making her food, etc.

    She use to limp from arthritis, but that has since also stopped since I have been making her food. In any event, the vet tech asked if she could perform two tests for heart worm and fecal parasites. I said that would be fine. Only when I was paying the bill, did I learn that the vet tech had given my dog the Lepto vaccination without any discussion about it with me or asking my permission. The vet tech also administered an injectable Bordetella vaccine.

    I had made it very clear to this vet that I did not want anymore vaccinations when I had my dog there for a first visit in October 2015 so I am completely distraught over the fact that they vaccinated her for Lepto. The Bordetella and the Lepto vaccines were given around 11am today and I have been watching my dog ever since. I can’t undo what has been done and I am terrified for my dog now having read about adverse reactions that can appear 48 hours later.

    Is there anything that I can do for her? So far, she seems to be doing fine and she has had no reactions. What do I need to watch for and is it possible to survive a reaction to the Lepto vaccination? I am completely sick with fear and vow never to take my dog to another vet. This vet advertises to be holistic. I called my vet’s office this afternoon to say that the vet tech should be fired for administering the Lepto vaccine to my dog. Please tell me what I can watch for and what if anything can be done to help my dog if she has a reaction to the Lepto. Thank you.

  11. Jan Says:

    Marie, the worst signs show up almost immediately: hives, trouble breathing, shock, collapse, although they can happen within a day or two. That they were given together makes a reaction more likely, but not a certainty. Also, her age is a factor. She shouldn’t be given any shots at all, except the legally required rabies. You can call the drug manufacturer and ask what signs to look for.

    You may want to contact a “real” holistic vet. Check out the lists at http://www.truth4pets.org/vets There are some vets there that do phone consults if necessary.

    Your vet is not “holistic.” I don’t know of any holistic vet who even carries those vaccines. Almost all vets give the nasal bordetella. This vaccine, btw, is pretty useless.

    If they don’t at least suspend the tech, fire the vet. You might consider that anyway.

  12. Linda Says:

    I have four tiny dogs two full bred shih tau and two half tau/ Maltese. Two of them nearly died from rabies shot reacation six years ago. Since then I refused have them for any shots. They are heathy and keep them very well feed, tender loving, keeping them warm in winter and sleep with us and keeping them cool. I am very much against for all kind of shot as they are killer instead of protection. True Fact to Fact.
    All I am asking if they should have some kind of vitamin as they are growing older to keep them stay heathy?

  13. Why Vets Don’t Recognize Vaccine Reactions Says:

    […] reaction and read other readers’ stories here: The Rabies Vaccine and Your Dog: Side Effects Protecting Dogs From Vaccine Reactions Rabies Vaccination: 13 Ways to Vaccinate More […]

  14. Phyllis Browning Says:

    My dog had a severe rabies vaccine reaction. Maltipoo: 6 pounds , almost a year old. First night, vomited and diarrhea, then could not get her to eat. We flew on a trip to Denver, all I could get her to eat was chicken. In aspen had to take her to an emergency vet because she started yelping when we picked her up, Vet said she was protecting her back, Area where vaccine had been given still large swollen area not far from where the back was sensitive. Vet put her on Prednisone and a painkiller. She seemed better but became constipated then had diarrhea. We removed her from painkiller. Got home and our home vet came, dog was still not eating, Vet got her special digestive food. She started with diarrhea again. Vet said to reduce Prednisone and then take her off to see if she was better. I then took her to the Vet that the home vet uses for tests and surgeries, I insisted that she have blood tests and x-rays to prove it was a back injury. Dr. Patrick McSweeney confirmed she had a severe reaction to rabies shot. He felt Prednisone was extremely harsh. After consulting with a neurologist he said that the x-rays revealed a compression in back between disks 12 and 13, ironically where some of swelling remained from the injection sight after 3 weeks plus. He wanted to be very conservative and administered the dog equivalent to Mobic, an anti-inflammatory drug . He used a under dosage for a 5 pound dog instead of a 6 pound dog for only 1 week. Now 5 weeks later, back is be much better, she is eating better, weight is stable but around the injection sight swelling has gone down but vet says she now has vasculitis with no hair at the injection sight. HELP!

  15. Jan Says:

    Phyllis, please read http://www.dogs4dogs.com/blog/2010/12/02/what-to-do-when-your-dog-has-a-vaccine-reaction/ The two most important points: find a holistic vet and make sure you have the reaction info recorded in your dog’s files and get copies. You’ll want a vet’s help to avoid the rabies vaccine in the future. You might also want to read this: http://www.dogs4dogs.com/blog4dogs/2009/07/01/rabies-vaccine-skin-reaction-ischemic-dermatopathy/ And make sure you report the reaction to the drug maker, and ask for compensation.

    Good luck.

  16. Kendall Everett Says:

    Waiting a few weeks in between vaccinations is a great idea. If you wait, that will give your dog a chance to accept the vaccination or show reaction if there is one. Scheduling to do this with the veterinarian would be a good way to ensure you don’t miss any.

  17. Luke Yancey Says:

    I was thinking about vaccinating my puppy. Good thing I came across your tips. I didn’t know that it was important to wait until the puppy was at least 8 weeks old.

  18. Lynn Mulder Says:

    I just got a puppy and she may not even weigh 2 pounds. 8 was old. I don’t want to vaccinate her. But it’s that safe? And is it a law that they have to have a rabies shot?

  19. Jan Says:

    Lynn, you’re right to be cautious. If you have a small breed dog, and sounds like you do, read http://truth4pets.org/2012/06/vaccinating-small-pets

    I’m not a vet, but if I had a new puppy, I’d give parvo and distemper starting at 9 weeks. No other vaccines although they’ll have to be administered several times. Here are details: http://truth4pets.org/question-before-vaccination/ Don’t give worm meds or any other meds at the same time.

    Re rabies, wait as long as you legally can then be very careful. Be sure to read this: http://www.dogs4dogs.com/blog/2010/09/23/rabies-vaccination-12-ways-to-vaccinate-more-safely/

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