Skip to main content

Rabies Vaccination Side Effects in Dogs

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

Dog rabies vaccine reactions

Dog rabies vaccine reactions

When and How Often are Rabies Shots Given?

If you own a dog, you are likely aware that by law you must get your dog a rabies vaccination. How often you give the vaccination varies depending on your dog's age and local regulations. Local regulations may be stricter than state laws; therefore, it is important to do good research. In some states rabies regulation is up to local animal control ordinances.

The rabies shot is a ''core'' vaccine; according to the AVMA it is meant to ''protect from diseases that are endemic to a region, with potential public significance, required by law virulent/highly infectious, and/or those posing a risk of severe disease. ''

Generally, a puppy receives the first rabies vaccine once it is at least 12 to 16 weeks old. At this time, the puppy is given a vaccination valid for one year. Afterward, once the puppy is two years old, the puppy may receive a three-year vaccination for rabies depending on the state. There are still a few states that require yearly rabies vaccinations.


Little Known Facts About Rabies Vaccines

Vaccinating your dog against rabies if something you need to do to comply with local laws, but there are many things dogs owners must know about the vaccination. Following are some little known facts about the rabies vaccination.

Rabies Shots Have Potential for Reactions

Among the various vaccinations dogs receive, the rabies vaccine has the highest rates of side effects. According to veterinarian Jean Dodds: “Rabies is the vaccine most associated with adverse reactions because it’s so potent."

The side effects may range from mild to life-threatening. Anaphylaxis is a serious life-threatening reaction which may occur minutes after administering any vaccine. Affected dogs will exhibit respiratory problems, shock and cardiac failure. Because treatment requires an immediate injection of epinephrine, it is a good idea to stick around the vet clinic for at least half hour in case of adverse reactions.

Other potential signs of trouble which can develop within hours are vomiting and diarrhea, hives and facial swelling. If any of these things occur, return your dog to the veterinarian immediately! Because of the risk of adverse side effects, it is recommended to keep an eye on the dog during the first few hours following vaccination and a few days afterward. It may be a good idea to avoid having a dog vaccinated on weekends or evenings when vets may be closed.

Much more common in dogs are localized reactions affecting the injection site. Pain at the injection site causing soreness is quite common and may be present for about 48 hours. Small dogs may be particularly sensitive and may not wish to be touched or picked up. Some may appear tired and may refuse food.

In this case a call to vet is recommended; the vet may give directions on baby aspirin doses for temporary pain relief for dogs. *Note: cats should never be given aspirin or other OTC pain relievers.

Some reactions may even occur up to 45 days later. Fibrosarcoma, a form of cancer, can occur at the injection site. Have your dog seen if you notice any abnormal swelling at the injection site. Other problems include autoimmune diseases, skin problems and behavioral problems. Because the rabies vaccine contains a neurogenic protein, it affects the nervous system and may even cause seizures.

Rabies Shot Reactions are Unreported

Many adverse reactions in dogs occur several days post-vaccination and are not reported because no connection between the vaccination and the illness are made. This causes many vaccine reactions to go unreported.

Regardless of the level of reaction your dog has, it is important to let the vet know. The vet will put a note in the dog's chart so next time some precautionary steps can be taken. For mild reactions, your vet may prescribe some Benadryl to give right prior to the shot to prevent unwanted reactions. In more severe cases, it is important to report the reaction directly to the manufacturing company and have the vet document the treatment in the dog's medical history. Some states allow dog owners to apply for dog rabies vaccine exemptions if there is enough medical data to support the case.

Rabies Shot Duration Under Investigation

Ronald Schultz, professor of pathobiological sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, has studied the immune response to vaccination in dogs for several years, and his findings suggest that pets are being over-vaccinated. The duration of immunity was found to be by far superior than a year in many core vaccinations, making yearly vaccinations unnecessary.

According to the Rabies Challenge Fund, a French study conducted in 1992 revealed that dogs showed immunity to rabies for five years following vaccination and Dr. Shultz's serological studies demonstrated immunity to rabies even seven years post-vaccination!

As a consequence, the Rabies Challenge Fund is attempting to extend the interval for rabies vaccination boosters to five to seven years. The fund accepts donations for its study from kennel owners and private individuals who are passionate about the issue and wish to contribute. All donations to the fund are tax deductible.


More Little Known Facts About Rabies Vaccines

  • The Rabies Challenge Fund was created by Kris Christine following the death of her beloved Labrador retriever. Her dog died following a cancerous mast cell tumor developed at the injection site. She helped advocate three-year rabies vaccination law in several states.
  • A study conducted by the Canine Health Concern in 1997 found that 4,000 dogs developed mobility problems shortly after being vaccinated with the rabies vaccine.
  • The dosage for a rabies shot is the same regardless if you own a cat, Chihuahua or an Irish Wolfhound. No wonder why small dogs are more prone to side effects!
  • If you own a wolf-dog hybrid, most states do not recognize a rabies vaccination for them. Learn what your local regulations are and inform yourself about bite situations.
  • The state of Hawaii is a rabies-free state and has strict quarantine laws. If you are moving to Hawaii you must plan ahead to ensure your dog abides by their regulations.
  • No pet should be vaccinated with rabies if sick. The labeling clearly indicates ''for the vaccination in healthy cats, dogs and ferrets."
  • The rabies shot should ideally be given separated from other vaccines.
  • ImrabTF is a rabies vaccine that doesn't contain thrimerosal, a type of mercury that was taken out of most of the vaccines for young children in 2001.
  • Dr. Jean Dodds recommends thuja and lyssin as part of a rabies vaccine detox for dogs.
  • Only a licensed veterinarian can administer a rabies shot
  • You must be released a rabies certificate and rabies tag after your dog is vaccinated
  • Should your dog bite somebody, the rabies vaccine is the first thing required.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2012 Adrienne Farricelli


Willow the Wisp on September 22, 2012:

Hub is Up! ~ Willow

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 22, 2012:

I look forward to reading the hub, thanks for spreading the voice!

Willow the Wisp on September 18, 2012:

Yes! my dog developed a mast cell tumor at the site of her last rabies vaccine. I am writing a hub right now about the exemption in the rabies vaccine law that most people don't know about.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 17, 2012:

Thank you! I worked for a vet years ago but do continuous research to keep up to date with the latest dog health updates.

Anna from Karachi, Pakistan on February 16, 2012:

Very informative page. I must you have great knowledge about dogs.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 08, 2012:

Thank you for posting, I feel the same way, it's really sad our pets are vaccinated so often when in reality they are covered much longer...

Shasta Matova from USA on February 08, 2012:

I took my dog for a vaccination and read up on it afterward. It bothers me that the clinic I went to doesn't advise people to stick around for 30 minutes. It also frustrates me that the government doesn't require more accountability by the manufacturer. If you require a vaccine, then they must do everything they can to be safe. But instead, they feel they have a pass to rake in the money.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 05, 2012:

Thank you, my cat used to get really sore afterwards. My two dogs do just fine usually. I can see how smaller dogs and cats can get more side effects due to being given the same rabies shot dosage.

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on February 05, 2012:

My dogs have never had a problem I did not know that there was a problem I am glad you wrote this to inform us.

voted up


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 05, 2012:

Did you dog have a reaction to the rabies vaccine? Upset about the duration of immunity issue? Have a question or wish to share your story? Post it here!