Vaccine Reactions in Dogs: Everything You Should Know

Typically, the risk of your furry friend having a severe reaction to a vaccine is very low, and in most cases well worth the risk. Vaccines protect your dog from a number of serious conditions that can be difficult and expensive to treat. Here, our Sharpsburg vets share advice on how to handle a reaction to a vaccine.

Why Your Dogs Should Get Their Shots

Vaccinations starting when your dog is just a puppy help to give your pup their very best chance at a long and healthy life. Vaccine boosters are also necessary on a regular basis to maintain your dog's protection against diseases. Some of the most important vaccinations for puppies to have include rabies, hepatitis, and parvovirus.

Although our veterinarians believe that vaccines are essential for all dogs, not all dogs require the same vaccines. Which shots your dog should receive are determined by where you live, your dog's age, and his or her lifestyle. These factors work together to determine your dog's risk of contracting diseases that can be prevented by vaccination. Your veterinarian can advise you on which immunizations are appropriate for your pet.

Common Mild Reactions to Vaccines in Dogs

The fact is, any medical procedure has the potential to lead to an adverse reaction. Reactions to a vaccine are uncommon but when they do occur they tend to be very mild and not last very long.

Knowing the symptoms of a reaction can help you to spot a reaction if your dog does have one, and may help to make vaccination time less stressful for you and your dog.

  • Lethargy - The most common reactions dogs have to their shots are sluggishness, mild discomfort, and simply not feeling like themselves. This is sometimes accompanied by a mild fever, which is caused by your dog's immune system reacting to the vaccination. These minor symptoms are completely normal and should last only a day or two. If your dog isn't back to normal within 48 hours, notify your veterinarian.
  • Sneezing & Cold-Like Symptoms - While the majority of vaccines are administered by injection, the parainfluenza and Bordetella bronchiseptica virus vaccines are given in the form of nasal sprays or drops. Reactions to these vaccines tend to look like basic cold symptoms and may include sneezing, coughing, and a runny nose. Expect your pup to recover from these symptoms within a day or two. If these symptoms become more severe or it’s taking your pup longer to recover, contact your vet for advice.

Serious Reactions to Vaccinations

As mentioned above, most reactions dogs have to vaccines will be mild and short-lived, in some rare cases pets can have more severe reactions that require immediate medical attention.

  • Anaphylaxis - This severe allergic reaction can cause symptoms such as facial swelling, diarrhea, itchiness, hives, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. This type of severe reaction usually occurs shortly after your dog receives their injection (typically while you are still at the vet's office), but it can occur up to 48 hours later.
  • Shock - Symptoms of shock following vaccines can include a slow heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and generalized weakness. You may also see a gray tongue and pale mucous membranes.

If your dog displays signs of anaphylaxis or shock, call your vet immediately or contact the emergency veterinary clinic closest to you!

Treatment For Vaccine Reactions in Dogs

Fortunately, adverse reactions resulting from vaccinations can often be reversed with proper treatment, and your dog should recover very quickly.

  • If your dog's reaction is not life-threatening and confined to the skin, treatment is likely to include cortisone and/or antihistamines. Symptoms will usually clear up quickly once treatments begin. 
  • Serious reactions such as anaphylaxis and shock require immediate veterinary care! Medications and intravenous fluids will be provided to help your dog recover and restore your pet's vital signs. Epinephrine and/or cortisone may also be used in these cases.

Preventing Reactions to Vaccines

Keeping your dog's shots up to date helps to protect your pet’s long-term health, and it's important to remember that the risk of having a serious reaction to a vaccine is very low for most dogs.

That said, if your dog has experienced an adverse reaction to a vaccine in the past it’s important to inform your vet so this history can be recorded in your pet's medical files. If a previous reaction has occurred your vet may recommend skipping a specific vaccination in the future.

When multiple shots are administered during a single appointment, the risk of vaccine reactions increases slightly. This is particularly true for smaller dogs. Your veterinarian may recommend spreading out your dog's vaccinations over several days rather than doing them all at once to reduce the risk of an adverse reaction.

Should I have my dog revaccinated?

It is difficult to predict your dog's risk of having a reaction again if revaccinated. Some dogs will have no reaction to the vaccination a second time, while others will have the same reaction as before, and in rare cases, dogs will have a serious life-threatening reaction to a previously administered vaccine.

If your dog has had a reaction to their first round of shots, speak to your veterinarian about the risks and benefits concerning vaccines and your dog's health. Your vet may recommend not vaccinating your pup for particular diseases based on your pet's previous reaction.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is it time to get your dog vaccinated? Contact us today to book an appointment to get your dog's shots.