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A List of Rabies Vaccine Side Effects in Dogs

Rabies Vaccine Side Effects in Dogs

Rabies vaccine side effects in dogs tend to appear either immediately or after several hours. In both cases, dog owners may feel concerned especially when the rabies vaccine side effects in dogs occur after hours, when the vet's office has already closed. The side effects of the dog rabies shot may vary from mild to severe. It's always best to inform your vet about any rabies-induced side effects in your dog so that your vet can note it on your dog's chart, and possibly, take some extra precautions next time (pre-treating with Benadryl or an anti-inflammatory like Dexamethasone before vaccinating).

Parvo is part of the five in one vaccine for dogs

Parvo is part of the five in one vaccine for dogs

Rabies Vaccine for Dogs

Although there may be some slight variances of rabies regulations from one state and another, your dog's rabies vaccine is mandated by law in all states. Variances from one state and another usually consist of who is allowed to administer the vaccine (only licensed vets or veterinary technicians), the frequency of vaccination (every year versus every three years) and whether it is possible to obtain waiver exemptions if the vet deems it medically necessary.

Rabies still as of today, remains one of the most dangerous public health problems in the world. There is no cure. It is transmissible from dog to humans and can potentially cause fatalities. The disease causes progressive inflammation of the brain caused by viruses in the genus Lyssavirus. In the United States, wild mammals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats act as reservoir capable of transmitting the disease from animal to animal through their bites.

Because rabies is such a serious disease, it's important to have dogs vaccinated. Unfortunately sometimes, rabies vaccine side effects in dogs may occur, and they are not very uncommon. Following is a list of rabies vaccine side effects in dogs.

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"How safe is rabies vaccination for my pet? This is a pretty safe vaccination. The vaccine is a "killed" vaccine which means there is no live virus. It stimulates the body to gain immunity...This is the one vaccination that is required in all states. It is the law. Therefore, it must be done."~Dr. Joey, veterinarian

Rabies Vaccine Side Effects in Dogs 

Fluconazole side effects in dogs

Rabies being a killed vaccine is less likely to give a reaction than some other types of vaccines. It is often when rabies is given concomitant to other vaccines that vaccine reactions seem more likely to occur. Most rabies vaccine side effects in dogs appear to occur in the first 48 to 72 hours after the shot is given. There are several brands of rabies vaccine on the market, some of the most popular ones used by veterinarians include Nobivac, Rabvac and Imrab.

Anaphylactic Shock

Although rare, as with any medication or vaccine, a rabies shot can cause severe allergic reactions. Most allergies occur as result of the vaccine antigens or other proteins found in the product. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can lead to death if left untreated.

Most severe allergic reactions to vaccines are noticed just seconds or minutes after the shot is administered. Affected dogs typically develop onset of hives, intense itching and swollen lips. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur.

Because anaphylactic shock causes a release in histamine and fast drop in blood pressure, affected dogs may develop pale gums and may have a weak, rapid or irregular heartbeat and troublesome breathing. A drop in blood pressure and shock can cause the dog to collapse. The larynx (voice box) may also rapidly swell closing off air supply and potentially causing death.

It's a good idea therefore to play it safe and stick around the vet's office for some minutes before leaving. Treatment of anaphylactic shock requires immediate administration of epinephrine followed by appropriate supportive therapy.

" True adverse reactions usually cause excessive vomiting, facial swelling, or hives along the body. In a true anaphylactic reaction, the pet (or person) will suffer a very quick reaction and will generally collapse as the blood pressure drops. In 12 years of practice, I have seen this happen 3-4 times out of the thousands and thousands of pets I've vaccinated."~ Dr. Chris Bern.

dog welts

Delayed Reactions 

While many serious reactions occur within minutes, some may appear up to 2 to 3 hours later or even as late as eight hours post-vaccination when most vet's offices are closed. Symptoms may last as long as 48 hours.

Affected dogs may therefore develop vomiting, diarrhea and facial swelling. Welts, also known as hives may appear on the dog's body as seen in the picture. Affected dogs may need to see the emergency vet so that they can receive injectable drugs such as corticosteroids, antihistamines, or in severe cases of anaphylaxis, epinephrine. 

 Dogs with a history of suffering these reactions, may require pre-treatment before receiving future vaccinations and careful monitoring for some time post-vaccination.

Muscle Soreness

Because the rabies vaccine is delivered under the skin, some dogs may start getting sore hours or days after the vaccination. This is similar to what happens to humans after getting a tetanus shot or a flu shot.

Some people after a flu shot or tetanus shot may just be a bit sore, while other may be unable to move their entire arm. As with people, dogs may react differently after receiving a rabies vaccine, explains veterinarian Dr. Chris Bern. Some dogs may act like nothing really happened, while others may develop soreness for the first 24 to 48 hours post-vaccination.

Dogs may manifest this soreness in different ways. Some dogs may be reluctant to be touched or picked up. Some other dogs may start limping after the rabies vaccine. This leg pain after all makes sense considering that nowadays, most vets administer the rabies shot to the dog's back leg. More specifically, according to The University of Tennessee the rabies vaccine should be given to dogs subcutaneously (under the skin) on the right rear leg.

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Localized Swelling

Sometimes, on top of feeling sore, dogs develop localized inflammation at the injection site which may lead to localized swelling. This type of swelling normally is first noticed around a day later and it is possible to persist for up to one week.

This swelling generally requires no treatment as it's short-lived and subsides as the inflammation reduces over the course of a few days. However, should you notice signs of an infection or presence of an abscess, let your vet know about it so that it can be treated, points out veterinarian Dr. Craig Datz.

Any lumps that last for more than a month or that grow greater than 2 centimeters, should also warrant veterinary attention. Keep an eye on the area so to track the lump.

Some toy or small breed dogs (Toy Poodles, Silky terriers, Yorkshire terriers, Pekingese, Maltese and Bichons) may develop at times a case of vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels. This is called "vaccination-site cutaneous ischemic vasculitis" and it may progress to hair loss, scaling and the presence of a circular area resembling a scar that won't go away. According to a study, the lesions are generally 2 to 5 cm in diameter.

Should this happen report it to your vet. Your vet can try to treat it with use of pentoxifylline and vitamin E. Surgical intervention may be needed to resolve the issue permanently, further explains Dr. Datz.

Dogs Ain't Doing Right 

Is gabapentin making your dog wobbly?

Is gabapentin making your dog wobbly?

In the veterinary field, the acronym ADR is used to depict dogs who "aren't doing right." Feeling under the weather for the first day or two following a vaccine is a common rabies side effect in dogs. Here's a brief explanation as to why this happens.

Vaccines work by stimulating the dog's immune system. When a dog receives a vaccination, his body therefore mounts an immune response in a controlled way so that, should he ever be exposed to the disease in the future, his antibodies will know exactly what to do.

Just as you would feel drowsy when fighting a cold as your body mounts an immune response, your dog will act lethargic and maybe even feverish after receiving a vaccine. This is sign that your dog's immune system is working as it should. Indeed, more than calling this a vaccine reaction, this should be called a vaccine response, and is considered normal.

Your dog should feel better and everything should be back with norm, in just another day or so, further points out Dr. Bern. Of course, if there is anything that concerns you though, consult with your vet at once.

"Well, vaccine reactions are typically just reactions. So, vomiting, facial swelling, hives, etc..I really don't commonly see a serious or long-term impact on the body or immune system."~Dr. Andy, veterinarian

Possible Longer Repercussions

Most rabies vaccine side effects in dogs ar expected to occur within minutes and some may last for up to a week in some cases, but what about side effects that may take longer to occur? There are toxic ingredients in vaccines which can potentially accumulate in the body or that may damage the immune system causing chronic diseases and even cancer. Problems may be seen only weeks, months or even years later. Things may get complicated in these cases because the time lapse may not readily trigger an association between the vaccine and the onset of problems.

"Side effects" therefore happening after a while are not normally linked to the vaccine as cause and effect is hard to be proven. However, should these changes in the dog's health status be totally discounted as separate events? If a dog was totally healthy prior to the vaccine and now is suffering from various ailments, shouldn't vaccines be put on top of the list of factors to blame? All that can be done is take a look at some findings from research and studies.

Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia

There may be chances that immune-mediated diseases can occur as a result of vaccines in dogs. Immune-mediated diseases are conditions where the dog' immune system ends up attacking the central nervous system. Among studies in humans, an association between autoimmune disorders and vaccines has been documented particularly in children.

A studyfrom 1996 found a possible relationship between vaccination and the onset of immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA). In the study, 15 out of 58 dogs (26%) where found to develop idiopathic IMHA within one month of vaccination. Eight out of the 15 dogs affected by IMHA had received a rabies vaccine.

"If your dog had an immune mediated disease like immune-mediated hemolytic anemia which can sometimes be linked to vaccination, then a discussion of not doing the DHPPL would be done but rabies is still recommended."~Dr. Joey

Thyroid Implications 

A recent study conducted by Purdue University has found that IMRAB-3, the most widely used rabies vaccine, increases the levels of thyroid antibodies in dogs.Whether or not these antibodies cause hypothyroidism though remains unknown. Indeed, the title of the studies says it all "Lack of Association between Repeated Vaccination and
Thyroiditis in Laboratory Beagle."

Again, this remains subject of controversy. "Although the data stops short of supporting the theory that rabies vaccines foster hypothyroid-triggering antibodies, "it's one step closer." says Dr. Larry Glickman.

On the other hand, Dr. Zack Mills, Merial's director of vaccines disagrees. He states "What I don't want to see happen is everyone running around saying that this vaccine causes thyroid problems in dogs. IMRAB is very effective and very safe."

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  • Public Veterinary Medicine: Public Health Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, 201
  • Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Vaccine-Associated Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia in the dog, Derek Duval, Urs Giger
  • DVM360: Adverse vaccination events: Separating fact from fiction (Proceedings)
  • DVM360: Postvaccinal adverse events (Proceedings)
  • DVM360: Rabies vaccine increases antibodies, study shows
  • Cutaneous Vasculitis and Vasculopathy. World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2004, Verena K. Affolter

  • J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1986 May 15;188(10):1174-7.Focal cutaneous vasculitis and alopecia at sites of rabies vaccination in dogs.Wilcock BP, Yager JA.

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