Dog Vaccine Reactions: Reality or Coincidence?

Written by Jan on January 14, 2015 – 5:00 am

Vaccine reactions


Every day someone writes to me with another horror story about their dog experiencing a seizure or a behavior change, developing autoimmune disease, or even dying after vaccination. Unless the reaction was immediate, but sometimes even then, their veterinarian likely insisted that vaccines are safe and couldn’t have caused the problem. But the pet’s guardian knows better. The dog was healthy until …. He had never had a seizure before …. He went downhill quickly after …. Often, veterinarians suggest that the dog had the health problem all along; vaccination just brought it to the forefront. Here’s the question: Without the vaccine, would it ever have materialized? Here’s a recent comment on my post, Rabies Vaccine: Side Effects and Help

I just had to put my puppy down yesterday [after rabies vaccination]. They told us that it could have been liver shunts, brain tumor, distemper and blah blah blah. They tried to cover for themselves. She did not show any signs of anything before her rabies shot. She was having an adverse reaction to the shot from the beginning. Hives, swelling, pustules, all of which lead into seizures once a day, then twice a day, then four times. We then took her to an animal hospital which said well it could have been a reaction but they didn’t rule anything else out either. We spent thousands of dollars to find out ANYTHING…nothing came up.

I wish I could say that this post was unusual, but it’s not. Since 2004, when my dog Jiggy was diagnosed with autoimmune liver disease after injection with the rabies vaccine, I have been researching and writing extensively about vaccination — particularly about preventing over-vaccination and adverse reactions. The one big difference since then is that more people suspect reactions than they used to. That’s progress of sorts, I guess, although I’ve been hoping for more. I’ve particularly been hoping that veterinarians would have started owning up to the dangers of vaccination. Most haven’t.

Why? Here’s an excerpt from my free 14-page report on rabies vaccination.

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Vaccine makers tell veterinarians that adverse reactions are mild and rare. Vet schools, which may receive funding from vaccine makers, teach students that reactions are mild and rare. Students are not taught to expect or recognize reactions, nor are they taught how to treat non-allergic reactions. As a result, few reactions are recognized and considerably fewer (only about 1%) are ever reported. Because few are recognized and fewer reported, reactions must be mild and rare.

What should you do if you think your dog is experiencing a vaccine reaction? If your dog is breathing heavily, his face is swelling and eyes are watering, and/or if he’s vomiting, has hives or is having a seizure or collapsing, or is showing any other sign of extreme distress, your dog may be experiencing a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. CALL YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY and head for your vet’s office or an emergency facility while, preferably, someone else drives. Please plan now where you will go in an emergency. Add the clinics’ phone numbers to your cell phone and note directions to nearby 24-hour clinics. If you have a smartphone, install apps that demonstrate emergency techniques. I use Pet First Aid by the Red Cross and Pet First Aid from Jive Media. Familiarize yourself with the apps before you need them. Also check out the “Emergency, Emergency!” chapter in my book.

Is the problem a vaccine reaction or a coincidence?  If your dog was healthy before vaccination, but exhibits any new health or behavioral problem after vaccination, suspect that your dog may be experiencing an adverse vaccine reaction. The reaction could be relatively minor — like lethargy, whimpering or soreness. Or unexpected — like lack of coordination, eating strange objects (called pica) or exhibiting a personality change (especially aggression). It could be immediate — like collapse or vomiting. Or long-term — like autoimmune disease or cancer. If anything has changed, consider it. Promptly report any symptom, no matter how mild, to the  vaccinating veterinarian.

Make sure he/she records the details in your dog’s file. And get a copy of your dog’s file. You may need proof of the reaction in the future. Get the vaccine name, lot #, serial # and expiration date. You’ll need this information when you report the reaction to the drug manufacturer. In the U.S., report it to the USDA as well. The USDA, not the FDA, regulates veterinary vaccines. Do not expect your veterinarian to report a reaction; vets should, but rarely do. My webpage, “Reporting Vaccine Reactions,” has links on how and where to file. (Read Does Your State Permit Rabies Vaccination Medical Exemptions? if you want to file for exemption to rabies vaccination.)

Warning: Your vet cannot properly treat a reaction if he/she doesn’t realize it is one. Some veterinarians fail to recognize a reaction even when it’s clearly listed as a known adverse reaction on the “product insert” accompanying the drug. Your veterinarian probably has not read this insert recently. If he/she doesn’t present the insert when asked, call the drug manufacturer. Sometimes you can find product inserts for pet vaccines online; more often, not. (Expect a list of known reactions in an upcoming post. Stop back within the next week or subscribe to this blog by clicking the link at the upper right of this page.) There was a final question at the end of the comment that opened this post.

The commenter wrote: “I’ve been doing research on it and I’ve seen that you can actually get reimbursed for any money spent. Is this true? Or am I wasting my time?” My answer is: Rarely, a manufacturer will reimburse some expenses; it’s worth trying. Be prepared to make a good case that the vaccine caused the reaction. Thanks to the U.S. Congress, there’s no obligation for vaccine makers to reimburse your costs, but they will sometimes make reimbursements for investigative purposes (such as for a biopsy of an injection site lump). Expect them to require your silence in return. They don’t like bad publicity. If you suspect a reaction, trust your gut. No one knows your dog better than you do. You may find more answers in Why Veterinarians Don’t Recognize Vaccine Reactions.




 Jan Rasmusen is the national award-winning author of Scared Poopless: The Straight Scoop on Dog Care (winning Best Health Book and Best Pet Health Book). Scared Poopless has been updated and expanded for a 611-page e-book with 260 color photos – an Amazon Bestseller! Read it on tablets, computers or smartphones with the free Kindle app. All proceeds benefit dog causes.  See our other websites dedicated to dog health: and

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8 Comments to “Dog Vaccine Reactions: Reality or Coincidence?”

  1. Gauri Says:

    Came across your blog through dogsnaturally magazine and found some real helpful posts here… Happy to have subscribed to your blog… 🙂
    Happy Petting 🙂

  2. Jan Says:

    Gauri, thanks for subscribing to my truth4dogs blog. You might also like

  3. Linda Says:

    What do I do when Rabies shot is mandatory in NY

  4. Mike Says:

    Adverse effects to vaccines are rare but it does happen. But I think that the chance of cathing a deadly disease is bigger, so I decided to give my pup all the necessary vaccines.

  5. Jan Says:

    Mike, if you had read the hundreds of comments on my posts on vaccination, you’d probably be shocked to realize that reactions are all too common. They are just rarely reported. You noted that you gave your puppy all the necessary vaccines. Are you sure you know what they are? They differ from dog to dog. Please read this before vaccinating again:

  6. Jan Says:

    Linda, does your dog have serious and documented health problems? If so, you may be able to get an exemption to rabies vaccination. Please read your state law here:

  7. Joel Sampson Says:

    Pet vaccinations can be difficult, but they’re also very important. I’m not familiar with vaccine reactions, so I appreciate you taking the time to explain them for us Jan. I’m going to show this article to my wife and see what she thinks. She’s a pet-lover and we have some great dogs.

  8. Jan Says:

    Joel, please read this about Questions to Ask Before Vaccinating. It has links to lots of info about vaccine reactions.

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