What to Do When Your Dog Has a Vaccine Reaction

Written by Jan on December 2, 2010 – 1:32 pm

IS THIS AN EMERGENCY?  If your dog is breathing heavily, his face is swelling and eyes watering, and/or he’s vomiting, has hives or is having a seizure or collapsing, your dog is having a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. CALL YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY! and start for your vet’s office or an emergency facility while, preferably, someone else drives.  (You do know where the nearest emergency vet is, don’t you?)

Your vet may not recognize your dog’s symptoms as a vaccine reaction and probably won’t want to believe or admit that the shot he/she administered brought on this problem.  If you believe it’s a vaccine reaction, be strong. You know your dog better than your vet does. Above all, keep your wits about you. Don’t be pressured into doing anything that doesn’t feel right. For example, if your dog has her first seizure ever soon after vaccination, she is probably having a vaccine reaction; she probably does NOT suddenly have a brain tumor requiring a $800 MRI!  As they say, when you hear hoof beats, think horses not zebras! 

Similarly, if your vet wants to give your dog antibiotics because she may have developed some unknown infection  the day after the shot (rather than a vaccine reaction), question that assumption. Antibiotics given needlessly can lead to antibiotic resistance and even autoimmune disease, and will destroy good intestinal flora which can potentially lead to gastrointestinal problems and allergies. Vets (and medical doctors) too often recommend antibiotics because they don’t know what else to do and feel they should do something.  Insist on a good evidence-based reason for giving any antibiotic.

If you’re having an emergency, read about CPR or scroll down to Treatment.

Pet CPR:  If your dog isn’t breathing, you’ll need to take action fast.  Here’s an instructional video on pet CPR .  Also see these written instructions which you can print out.

Non-immediate reactions:  If your dog has developed any unexplained health or behavioral problem within 45 to 60 days of vaccination, or even longer, it may be a reaction to the shot.  If you suspect the problem may be connected to a vaccine, you’ll likely have to convince your vet. It’s common to hear “it couldn’t be the shot” or “a reaction like that isn’t possible” — even when the reaction is a common one.

Many primary vets believe vaccine reactions to be rare, in large part because severe cases go to emergency clinics, not back to the primary vet.  The World Small Animal Veterinary Association, WSAVA (p. 55), says: “It is generally only the adverse reactions that occur within the first few hours to a day after vaccination that are considered vaccine-associated by most veterinarians or owners. Even when the adverse reaction occurs shortly after vaccination there are many who fail to recognize that the vaccine caused the reaction. Certain adverse vaccine reactions are not observed until days, weeks or even months and years after vaccination or revaccination. The autoimmune disorders and the injection site sarcomas, which are among the rare vaccine adverse reactions, may not develop for years after being triggered by vaccines.”

Even the drug’s manufacturer (to whom you should immediately report the reaction) may deny the connection. (Admitting it may cost them money.)  If your dog got a rabies vaccination plus another vaccine of any kind, make sure you know where on the body the different shots were given and the name and serial number of each shot. This is especially important if your dog got a rabies shot.

Insist on seeing every product’s package insert. Get it from your vet or call the manufacturer and ask if it’s viewable on-line. (It probably is, but they won’t admit it. Note: the Material Safety Data  Sheet, or MSDA, is not the same thing.) Also know that long-term reactions aren’t usually documented or even studied. So persevere! A suspected vaccine reaction, especially one supported by your vet, may entitle you to compensation for medical expenses from the drug manufacturer.

Which dogs are most likely to have reactions?  Small and medium-sized dogs are the most likely, especially when given more than one vaccine at a time. (DALPPC, a common “combo shot,” contains SIX vaccines! If your vet gives rabies or Bordetella at the same time, that’s EIGHT!)  For more about this, read my article about a study published in the American Veterinary Medical Association Journal showing the connection between multiple vaccines and reactions. (Give your vet a copy.) Note: multiple vaccines also make it difficult to figure out which vaccine caused the reaction. Just one of countless good reasons not to allow them!  (Wait at least three weeks between shots and pesticides like heartworm meds.)

Dogs vaccinated when they are not healthy, dogs with previous adverse reactions to vaccines and dogs vaccinated within three weeks of a previous vaccination are also more likely to react adversely. Read this article on Protecting Dogs from Vaccine Reactions to find other ways you or your vet may have put your dog at risk.

How prevalent are reactions?   The USDA/CVB 2008 Report states that “Rabies vaccines are the most common group of biological products identified in adverse event reports received by the CVB.”  In 2007, 6500 reactions were reported for the canine rabies vaccine alone.  Unfortunately, former FDA commissioner David Kessler estimated that only 1% of all drug reactions are ever reported (even for human reactions). Thus, approximately 650,000 rabies vaccine reactions likely occurred.  Add to that more than a dozen other vaccines also causing reactions. Worse yet, long-term reactions are seldom even recognized let alone reported.

What reactions are commonly seen?  Common rabies vaccine reactions, followed by the percentage of reactions reported to the USDA (many of which are also reactions to other vaccines): Vomiting-28.1%; facial swelling-26.3%; injection site swelling or lump-19.4%; lethargy-12%; urticaria(hives)-10.1%; circulatory shock-8.3%; injection site pain-7.4%; pruritus-7.4%; injection site alopecia or hair loss-6.9%; death-5.5%; lack of consciousness-5.5; diarrhea-4.6%; hypersensitivity (not specified)-4.6%; fever-4.1%;, anaphylaxis-2.8%; ataxia-2.8%; lameness-2.8%; general signs of pain-2.3%; hyperactivity-2.3%; injection site scab or crust-2.3%;, muscle tremor-2.3%; tachycardia-2.3%; and thrombocytopenia-2.3%.  (Oddly, they don’t list seizures which may occur after rabies vaccination. Click here for more on seizures.)

Other reactions considered “possibly related to vaccination” included acute hypersensitivity (59%); local reactions (27%); systemic reactions, which refers to short-term lethargy, fever, general pain, anorexia, or behavioral changes, with or without gastrointestinal disturbances starting within 3 days after vaccination (9%); autoimmune disorders (3%); and other (2%).

Also see the chart on page 54 of the WSAVA Vaccination Guidelines (which lists seizures.)

What to Do If You Suspect Your Dog is Having a Vaccine Reaction

1.  Get treatment!

In emergencies: Most dogs will get emergency treatment from a conventional vet — often from an emergency facility veterinarian you don’t know.  The vet will likely administer steroids and an antihistamine.  These are the conventional treatments of choice.  Most important at this point is to save your dog’s life.  Note: Unless there is a good evidence-based reason for your dog to get antibiotics, consider whether or not this is a wise course of action.

If you have a relationship with a holistic vet and can get immediate treatment, you will probably be offered homeopathy and/or acupuncture — which unlike steroids and antihistamines have no harmful side effects.

Non emergencies and long-term treatment: If possible, find a vet trained in homeopathy to treat your dog — to “clear” the bad effects of the vaccine rather than just suppress symptoms. See these vet referral lists  If you can’t find a good vet, or can’t afford one, contact me for other experts you can contact.  The rabies vaccine alone can cause blood disease, autoimmune disease and more. Find a list of rabies vaccine reactions here.

Watch your dog carefully for new or worsened symptoms. Report all changes to your vet.  If the symptoms are visual, take photograph or videotape what is happened.

2. Document everything!  Make sure all vets treating your dog record any reaction in detail (even a mild one) in your dog’s file. Ask the vet to sign the notation about the reaction. Vets retire, move and lose files. Keep a copy of the file in a safe place along with any photos or video.

If the reaction was to the rabies vaccine, you’ll want to ask your vet to apply for a medical exemption when the shot is due again.  Ask the vet to write a letter now to use later. If the reaction is to any other vaccine, you may want to get an exemption from groomers and boarders who require  other vaccines — most if not all of which are unnecessary.  (Please read our page on vaccinating before you give another shot of any kind.  And check your state’s rabies law and also your local Animal Control to see if local exemption options differ.)

3. Call the vaccine manufacturer.  Get the vaccine brand, serial number and lot number from the vet who administered the vaccine to report to the manufacturer (who in turn is legally required to report the reaction to the USDA).  Ask your vet to report the reaction but don’t expect that he or she will. The 2006 American Hospital Association Canine Vaccine Task Force Report pleads with vets, page after page, to report reactions — because they seldom do. Vets either don’t link the health or behavior problem to the vaccine … or they can’t be bothered.  Thus, reactions go unrecognized and reported, and dangerous vaccines stay on the market.

If the vaccine can be proven to be at fault, you may be able to recover your expenses from the manufacturer. Reporting is in your best interests.

If, tragically, your dog dies or has to be put down, ask the manufacturer if they’ll pay for a necropsy (autopsy). If they won’t pay, but it’s pretty clear that the vaccine caused the dog’s death, you might want to pay for it yourself (if you can) and then go after the manufacturer for reimbursement. This is especially important with injection-site tumors.

4. Report the Reaction to the USDA  Go to the USDA animal vaccine reaction reporting page  to view information on reporting adverse events. The reporting form can be accessed from that page and submitted electronically, or it can be mailed or faxed to the Center for Veterinary Biologics. Or call the CVB at (800) 752-6255.

Why should you bother?  The only way for the USDA to track drug reactions is by receiving reports from vets, pet owners and manufacturers. Theoretically, if enough reactions are reported, the drug can be recalled.

5. Report your vet.

If your vet didn’t advise you before vaccination about possible reactions, or let you know if the vaccine was even necessary, file a report with your state veterinary medical association.  In some states, they’ll tell you if your vet has a history of negligence. In others, they won’t tell you anything. Filing a report can result in no action being taken, so be prepared to be disappointed. But do it anyway. Multiple complaints can make a difference.

Wait until you’ve gotten everything you need from your vet before filing the complaint. Also, fire that vet and tell him or her why.  Click here to find a list of vets with holistic and/or homeopathic experience to treat your dog in the future.

6. Take More Action.  If your vet’s behavior was particularly negligent and harmful, especially if the vet is with a large corporate practice, consider contacting your state’s Attorney General and/or a local television consumer reporter and/or the Better Business Bureau. Laws are changing because consumers have taken action.

7.  Stop vaccinating unnecessarily. Your vet should have told you before vaccinating that parvovirus (one “P” in DALPPC) lasts 9 years to a lifetime; the same with distemper (D). The L, leptospirosis, shouldn’t be given to a small dog unless there’s an epidemic. C, Coronavirus, is for a very mild, rare disease of very young puppies. It’s often called a vaccine looking for a disease.  A is for adenovirus 2, a disease virtually unknown in North America. Read more about your vet’s duties to get your informed consent.

Additional articles of interest: Vaccinating Dogs: 10 Steps to Eliminating Unnecessary Shots and see how long vaccines give immunity here under Point #6.
Rabies Vaccination: 13 Ways to Vaccinate More Safely
Vaccinating Small Dogs: Risks Vets Aren’t Revealing
Protecting Dogs From Vaccine Reactions
How to Report Vaccine Reactions
Questions to Ask Before Vaccinating


Get Our Vaccination DVD: W. Jean Dodds, DVM and Ronald D. Schultz, PhD spoke at our Safer Pet Vaccination Benefit Seminar in March 2010. A DVD of the event is available. Buy it at http://www.dogs4dogs.com/New%20Shopping%20Cart/Check%20out%20page.htm Or learn more about it at http://www.dogs4dogs.com/saferpet. Learn more about rabies vaccination at www.truth4dogs.org and about vaccination in general at http://www.dogs4dogs.com/shots and at http://www.truth4dogs.com.

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Posted under Rabies Shots, Uncategorized, Vaccination, Vaccine Reactions, Veterinarians | 218 Comments » Email This Post

218 Comments to “What to Do When Your Dog Has a Vaccine Reaction”

  1. Jan Says:

    Barb, a vet who denies that it might be a reaction is probably not the right vet to treat the reaction. You need a vet who understands what is happening. http://www.truth4pets.org/vets

    I am not a vet, but I’m not a fan of Hills I/D. If you use it, I suspect canned would be better than dry. http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-reviews/hills-prescription-diet-id-canine-dry/ If it were my dog, I’d continue the homemade.

  2. Jackie Thrower Says:

    My pup is currently having a reaction to the Lyme Disease vaccine. She has a huge lump filled with fluid on the injection site. Taking her back today and I am scared.

  3. Jan Says:

    Jackie, your dog is likely having an inflammatory response to the injection. If you’re not seeing any vomiting, hives, etc., it will probably resolve. It’s good to show it to your vet and make sure it’s noted in your dog’s file. If you need more advice, write again and I’ll try to help.

    Before vaccinating against anything else, please read http://truth4pets.org/question-before-vaccination/ If your dog is small to medium in size, also read this: http://truth4pets.org/2012/06/vaccinating-small-pets/ Do not presume that your vet vaccinates using current guidelines. Most are out of date and will over-vaccinate. Your puppy’s future health depends on your educating yourself if you haven’t already.

  4. Beth Howes Says:

    My chocolate lab just received the Lyme disease vaccination and less than an hour later had three grand mal seizures in a row. We rushed him back to the vet where he was in the process of seizing when we arrived. They gave him valium and then came to talk to my husband and I. The first thing out of the vets mouth was I think he was just overly stressed from his recent office visit or this could be the first of idiopathic epilepsy. Ok I’m a nurse and have been a long time. So I stopped her and said no this is a reaction and sure enough she said it wasn’t. I said yes it is call the company. I go back tomorrow to pick up my other dogs antibiotics and I’m going to insist on a copy of the report to the manufacturer. When I asked what to do next she sent me home with a dose of valium and told me if he seizes again to bring him back. Is there anything else I can do to reverse the vaccine???

  5. Jan Says:

    Beth, it drives me crazy. If your dog had seized with the vet’s needle in his hands, he would have thought of an excuse for why it wasn’t the vaccine. It happens all the time. Report the reaction to the manufacturer. Sometimes they’ll pay for treatment. http://www.dogs4dogs.com/blog/2010/12/02/what-to-do-when-your-dog-has-a-vaccine-reaction/

    In my experience, you need a holistic vet to work on the reaction. http://truth4pets.org/vets/ You might also check out http://www.naturalrearing.com They may recommend thuja (thuya).

  6. Susan Says:


    I had a male Corgi who developed seizures less than a week after vaccines. I knew it was the vaccines but the vet said no. They wanted to do an MRI to check for a tumor but I knew he didn’t have a tumor. That first seizure was at age 5 and he lived to be 15 but was on Phenobarbitol his entire life. I don’t think the Valium alone will help. Go to the epi guardian angels website and you’ll get all the help you need. Bless you.

  7. Tiffini Ingram Says:


    Thank you for reading this email. My new puppy (approx 4 mos old and rescued from a homeless couple – red heeled mix) was vaccinated with DAPv and Rabies on 12/27. We had had this puppy for 4 days at this point and he was extremely healthy and was declared so by vet during wellness exam. Approximately 48 hours later puppy became sick and by following day was at another vet (First vet closed) where puppy had 104.9 fever, extreme lethargy and weakness. Given sub q fluids and amoxicillin and send home. Puppy continued to decline (Though fever was brought down with antibiotics, fan, cold compresss and ice chips) and cried out in pain when trying to stand. Early morning brought to ER vet (day 4 after vaccinations). Puppy in lots of pain, 102.5 temp, lethargy and inability to stand. X-rays, CBC, complete blood chemistry, cystocentesis and urinalysis all normal. Sent home with clavamox, tramadol and sub q fluids to administer, brought back following morning with little to no change, new tentative diagnosis possibly panosteitis though additional X-rays negative. Neurological exam good though inability to bear weight, extreme lethargy and pain remain. Sent home with rimadyl in additions to prior prescribed meds to continue.
    Please advise.
    Thank you so much.

  8. Jan Says:

    Tiffini, I have, unfortunately, heard this story many times. Vets give vaccines, refuse to connect vaccines to reactions, then give antibiotics and pain killers and charge for all kinds of tests — which do nothing to help with the reaction. You read my article on what to do and I can’t add to that. Gather info on the vaccine and call the manufacturer. If you can, get a holistic vet involved. http://www.truth4pets.org/vets They will understand what is happening. I wish I could do more.

  9. sheryl kroese Says:

    I have a number of my Scotties that need boosters or their first rabies vaccine… I called several vets looking for the best bargin and I was told that the least expensive vet gave rabvac3 … I have tried to find out if this brand has a more or less adverse reactions…. I had heard fort dodge did at one time… Can you give me some help?

  10. Jan Says:

    Sheryl, look for thimerosol free rabies vaccines: rabvac or merial TF. No mercury.

    Re boosters, experts say most adult dogs that had at least one “puppy shot” after 15-16 weeks of age don’t need them. Read this: http://truth4pets.org/question-before-vaccination/

  11. Sara Says:

    I have an 11 year rescue male staffie. I had several calls and letters from my vet to get his booster so I brought him exactly a week ago. He had DHP and L2 vaccinations.
    Within 30 hours he had a massive seizure. He recovered within a few hours. Then 2 days later another. He has had smaller seizures for the past 2 days and today he keeps falling over as his back legs go.

    My vet is still in denial and got me to do bloods. Which were “surprisingly healthy” for his age (this vet has cared for him since I got him 14 months ago and knows he has had 3 operations in The past year)

    I am pro vaccine still but – shouldn’t my vet have told me there was a slight risk or perhaps broken up the dose in two stages not one shot? I’m not happy. Nobivac Is the manufacturer and I will contact them on Monday.

    I believe if seizures continues I must put him on. Anti seizure drugs for rest of his life? Heartbreaking watching this healthy dog struggle to get about. He’s exhausted from the seizures of course.

    Any advise? We are based in London.

    Thanks for a very helpful page here.
    Fingers and paws crossed for all dogs affected
    Sara and Rocco

  12. Jan Says:

    Sara, first, adult dogs rarely require boosters if immunized as puppies. Older dogs are more likely to have adverse reactions. http://truth4pets.org/question-before-vaccination/

    I’m not a seizure expert but I know some people do have luck with acupuncture. Try doing a search on something like natural methods for canine seizure control.

    One more thing: also do a web search on Leptospirosis. It causes lots of adverse reactions and in the U.S. does not protect well.

    Good luck.

  13. Suzanne Reep Says:

    I have a 7 year-old retired greyhound named Gibbs. He is on thyroid meds and has reoccurring staph infections on his body. He also has Pannus. Gibbs had a DHLP when I got him and had not planned on doing any more DHLP vacs ever. His rabies vac expired last spring. Because I live very close to a bayou and woods and also frequent a dog park, I had the vet give him his rabies vac two weeks ago. He was very lethargic afterwards. Two days after the vaccination, he started with some coughing and sneezing and sounded a bit congested. Those symptoms went away by the fourth day. He has no appetite now and is eating about a third of what he should. I took him to the vet yesterday, but my vet didn’t address my concerns. I was worried that he had swallowed plastic or shells so x-rays were done. Also did some blood work. Everything was fine. What can be done with homeopathic supplements? He seems to want to eat, but doesn’t. Is this a symptom of the rabies vaccination. He also being treated for Pannus. I now suspect that during his racing career he had a reaction to the rabies vaccinations. No more vacs of any kind for my boy Gibbs. I typically do not vaccinate my dogs over the age of 8. Suzanne and Gibbs in Gulf Shores, AL

  14. Jan Says:

    Suzanne, make sure the reaction is recorded in your dog’s file so you can get an exemption in the future.

    Lyssin is the usual (nosode) remedy of choice, but a vet homeopath knows more than I do. http://www.truth4pets.org/vets Or visit http://www.naturalrearing.com

    Before even thinking of vaccinating again, please read http://truth4pets.org/question-before-vaccination/ It’s dogs over 8 MONTHS, not YEARS, that generally don’t need vaccines.

    The lack of appetite and lethargy are likely symptoms. Good luck.

  15. john s Says:

    Our 10 week old female Parti-Color Yorkie (~2.5 lb) started vomiting and convulsing (grand mal) 12 hours after getting her 3rd puppy vaccine. She convulsed 3 or 4 times and then started continuously tremoring side to side and only stopped when she fell asleep or laid down with her chin firmly pushing on the floor. I told my wife she was doing Joe Cocker immitations. I am a pharmacist and immediately gave her 250mg of DHA (1/2 tsp Calson’s Finest Fish Oil) 4 times/day. The next day we went to the vet and she started her on a small daily dose of prednisone for 5 days. Within a few days the tremors stopped. Our vet told us not to sell the puppy. She is now 2 years old and has had no visible effects.

    The vaccine was made by Merial and I talked to the medical staff there who refused to acknowledge that this reaction was caused by their vaccine. I even sent them a video of the dog tremoring back and forth. I was disturbed to find out that all dogs receive the same vaccine – so a St Bernard puppy gets the same dose as a 2lb Yorkie. I would think that at least the vaccine adjuvant would be reduced for smaller dogs. A bad story with a good ending.

  16. Jan Says:

    Hi John. Thanks for writing.

    Why did you use DHA? I haven’t heard of using it for vax reactions. I’m glad it worked.

    Here’s some info on vaccination that might interest you. http://truth4pets.org/2012/06/vaccinating-small-pets/ and http://truth4pets.org/question-before-vaccination/ I can email you the study on small dogs if you like.

  17. Christin L. Goff Says:

    I have a terrier mix, aged 11–took her in for a check up and shots (rabies booster, distemper–vet said she needed both)…now a week later she will not move or eat. I didn’t think it was related to the vaccines at first (she has hurt her back in the past from chasing squirrels–), but now after reading this thread, I am convinced it was the vaccines (amount? too close together? chemicals?) She was fine before taking her in and now she is refusing all food. I am devastated.

  18. Jan Says:

    Christin, rabies should not be given with another vaccine. why did your vet do this? Why should a senior dog get a puppy shot (distemper)?

    Find a holistic vet. http://www.truth4pets.org/vets Contact the vaccine maker. Raise hell.

    Is your dog having a problem with her rear end coordination?

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