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 | 265 Comments » Email This Post

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

  1. Milissa Hines Says:

    I have a 7 year old Maltese. Has reactions every time he is given his shots. Shakes for hours. Has seizures off and on for months after. After reading your article on shots, I was able to get him his heart worm pills without the vet forcing me to give him his shots last year. It is time again for his heart worm pills. I fear they won’t do this two years in a row. Is there a holistic vet in Tulsa, OK? We have a pool, live near a lake and so mosquitos are everywhere. I also read your article on heart worm pills. He has never missed a pill since he was a baby.

  2. Alisa Says:


    We brought home a 9 week old Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy 4 days ago. The day before we got him, he received his first vaccine, Distemper and Parvo only. After a few hours of having him home he started getting itchy and developed hives and puffy eyes. Called the emergency vet who told us to give him benadryl, which significantly helped. The following day he was still a bit itchy but nothing like the evening prior. It was horrible, he was so distressed. I took him to my vet and she was a little surprised that he reacted to rhe vaccine since it wasn’t a 5 in 1 or 7 in 1. She told me future vaccinations cpuld have an even more severe reaction and could kill him. I asked her if we could titer in a couple weeks to see if that first shot gave him immunity. She said she had never titered a puppy this young and would consult her lab about it. If he still had mom’s immunity, would the titer pick that up as an immune response? I’m so worries about him! He is fine now and back to his curious happy self, but I am being very vigilant in keeping my eye out for any other changes. I want to start taking him to puppy class and socialising him outside my house but also don’t want to expose him and have him get sick. Any advice or information would be very helpful.

  3. Jan Says:

    Milissa, your vet is dangerously way behind the times. Even the most conservative vets only vaccinate every three years, which is still too often. https://www.aaha.org/public_documents/guidelines/vaccination_recommendation_for_general_practice_table.pdf And no vet should vaccination a dog with a history of reactions. That’s horrible.

    Your dog should be immune to everything for life. http://truth4pets.org/question-before-vaccination/ Check for a holistic vet: http://www.truth4pets.org/vets

  4. Jan Says:

    Alisa, you might call or email Hemopet.org and ask your question. They are a non-profit lab and the owner is one of the world’s top vaccination experts: Dr Jean Dodds.

    The American Veterinary Medical Assoc. now says that socialization is more important than vaccination. “They should avoid areas with high likelihood of unvaccinated dogs such as dog parks and grassy areas that dogs frequent.” Of course, if it’s a puppy class, they’ll want shots. If you decide to try again, use another brand. Sometimes it’s the other things in the vaccine that cause problems, not the virus.

    Another more controversial option is nosodes: http://www.charlesloopsdvm.com

  5. Linda Charterina Says:

    I have a 11 week old German shepherd pup. We had him 3 weeks prior to his 1st vet visit! He was a wonderful pup..No issues at all! On 223 I took him for his 1st vet visit. She gave him a combo puppy booster. 20 mins later, the puppy was having seizures!! I rushed him back and she gave him 2 shots of a anti reaction med. Antihistamine I’m assuming. Well I brought him home and he again had more seizures! Ended up in hospital for 3 days. Brought him home only to have seizures continue!! And he’s on phenobarbitol! Today was the worse, 3 major seizures and many smaller!! Then he started running. Around house in circles. He didn’t know anything. Back to the hospital we go! He’s there now. Vets are still I sisting this was not from vaccine!!! Bull!!! It most certainly was! I had a perfect puppy! Prior to that injection!! I don’t know where to go from hete!! Help!!!! The vet said his prognosis is poor!!! Plz advise!!

  6. Jan Says:

    Linda, of course it was the vaccine. It’s a known adverse event. Get all the info you can, copies of his file, etc., and call the manufacturer of the drug. They may at least pay for treatment, although I wouldn’t hold my breath. Oh, before you do, call the breeder and see if his siblings have had any vaccine issues, although he/she probably won’t tell you the truth.

    If your dog stabilizes, try a holistic vet who is certified in acupuncture. http://www.truth4pets.org/vets

    Exactly what vaccines were in the combo? Was anything else given then, like worming medicine?

    Good luck. When you’re up to it, please report the problem here: http://www.protectthepets.com/report-adverse-reactions.html

  7. Christine Says:

    I have a four year old rough collie that I adopted through breed rescue. The first time I took him to the vet for a bordatella vaccination, he had vomiting and diarrhea for about three days afterward. I didn’t connect it with the vaccination. The second time, it happened again. When I took him in for the third one, I asked the vet about it, and she said it was just a coincidence, and that bordatella is not one of the vaccinations that cause a reaction. She gave him the third one, and he had vomiting and diarrhea for about three days again. He is past due for a fourth one, but I don’t want to give him another one, since I suspect that the vaccination is the cause. He can’t be boarded when I go out of town without being current on bordatella vaccinations.

    Is bordatella one of the vaccinations that cause a reaction, or is it just a coincidence that he has had vomiting and diarrhea after all three? Thank you!

  8. Jan Says:

    Christine, your dog is trying hard to tell you that this is a dangerous vaccine. Is it worse than others? No. All vaccines can cause reactions: some minor, some lethal. You should never give this vaccine again. Anyway, it doesn’t work.

    Most vaccines are not necessary for adult dogs, any more than childhood vaccines are necessary for you. Please read http://truth4pets.org/question-before-vaccination/

    Your vet is incompetent. This is a common reaction. And when dogs are known to have adverse reactions, they should never be given that vaccine again.

    Get an exemption letter from another vet, and tell the boarder you can’t give the vaccine. If all the other dogs are vaccinated, then everyone will be fine, right?

    Find a dog sitter. Or leave your dog with a friend. It’s much safer.

  9. Christine Says:

    Hello Jan,

    Thank you for confirming my suspicions. He won’t be getting any more of that vaccine. And thank you for the ultra quick reply!

  10. Erin Says:

    My dog got her second rabies booster shot last Friday. She didn’t get any adverse reaction but today she started having vaginal discharge. It’s a little watery, almost clear in color and it doesn’t smell bad. My question is, if our vet wants to put her on antibiotics for either vaginitis or uti, what should I do? Is taking antibiotics about 1 week after rabies vaccine okay? Will it have negative effects on her?

  11. Fiza Irwin Says:

    my dog got her shots and a new heartworm shot three days ago. today she had a siezure on her walk. she just collapsed stiff. she’s 6 and has been getting her shots all this while no issues at all so im assuming its this new cocktail of shots which she has never got before (we just moved to australia). Is it out of her system now or do i take her to emergency? shes been perfectly normal till now and now perfectly normal after the siezure.

  12. Jan Says:

    Fiza, you need a better vet. Your adult dog doesn’t need puppy shots so most if not all are unnecessary. I don’t know a lot about Australian diseases so check out this from an Aussie vaccine researcher: https://over-vaccination.net/2013/08/21/over-vaccination-of-dogs-with-unnecessary-boosters/

    The heartworm shot on it’s own can be dangerous. It should never be given with other meds. I’m not a vet so I can’t give you medical advice about what to do now. If you dog is in distress, see a vet. Another vet. If she seems fine, you might want to see what happens although seeing a vet is a good idea. You might want to use a different heartworm med in the future.

  13. Jan Says:

    Erin, I’ve never heard of this as a vaccine reaction. Giving her antibiotics will kill all the good bacteria in her gut and vagina along with the bad — if there is any. I’m not a vet, but I wouldn’t give antibiotics unless she is in serious danger without the drug. “Just-in-case” is not a good reason. If she were mine, I’d give her probiotics.

  14. valerie pitkowitz Says:

    yesterday I took my 16 year old Shih Tzu to the vet for her rabies
    shot as it is required by my town of Babylon on Long Island NY
    I noticed that she was having a difficult time walking on her
    right leg and got aggressive when I went to touch her. I immediately called my vet and they told me that this was
    a normal reaction and that they probably hit a muscle. I was told that the injection was sub cutaneous.
    Evidently they DID hit the muscle. They told me to keep an eye
    on her and her condition should improve in a few days. I am
    very upset about this and I told my vet so. Unfortunately I was
    not in the examination room when they gave her the shot so I
    do not even know who gave her the injection.
    I will keep a close look at her and if her condition worsens I
    will bring her to holistic vet to see if he can do something.
    Please respond and let me know if this is a normal reaction.

    Thank you

  15. Jan Says:

    Valerie, I’m not a vet and haven’t seen your dog, but it does sound like a normal reaction if the dog seems in pain. The right rear is where the vaccine is supposed to be given. If it doesn’t improve, do see your holistic vet.

    Learn more about vaccinating here: http://truth4pets.org/question-before-vaccination/

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