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How to Handle a Reaction to a Vaccine in Your Dog

Dog vaccinations are necessary for your pet, but each can hold risks and benefits. Our Charlotte vets provide advice on how to handle a reaction to a vaccine.

Why should I vaccinate my dog?

To get your dog off to a good start and give them a chance at a long, healthy life, it’s best to have them vaccinated early in life. Regular vaccinations as an adult should follow, as recommended by your vet.

Diseases, including hepatitis, parvovirus and rabies can turn very serious and even fatal quickly, especially in puppies.

Vaccines help prevent the development of these conditions in the first place, which is always preferable to treating them once your pet begins to display symptoms - both because they negatively affect your pet’s health and because treatment can be expensive.

Vaccine Reactions in dogs

Does my pet need all the available dog vaccinations?

Just like their human owners, every dog is different, so they will have different risk factors based on their lifestyle, breed and age. Your vet will weigh these when considering which vaccinations your dog needs, then recommend which immunizations your dog should receive.

What are the most common reactions to vaccines in dogs?

With every medical procedure - including vaccines - potential adverse reactions can happen. Dog owners who love their pups can become distressed at seeing their beloved pet have a reaction to a vaccine, but keep in mind that most reactions are mild and therefore short-lived.

Knowing what the symptoms of allergic reactions are so you can look out for them - and what to do if your dog does have a reaction - can help make vaccination time less stressful for you and your dog.


General lethargy and discomfort is the most common reaction dogs may have to getting their shots. This can sometimes be accompanied by a mild fever as your dog’s immune system works and responds to the vaccination.

Mild symptoms such as these are appropriate and normal and should only last one or two days. If your dog isn’t back to normal within the two-day timeframe, get in touch with your veterinarian.

Sneezing & Cold-Like Symptoms

Most vaccines will be administered via injection, but parainfluenza and Bordetella bronchiseptica virus vaccines are provided by putting sprays or drops into your dog’s nose.

Reactions to these vaccines look similar to a cold and can include sneezing, coughing and a runny nose. Most dogs will recover with a couple of days from these symptoms, but if the reaction is more severe or it’s taking your pooch longer to recover, you’ll want to contact the vet.

Serious Reactions to Vaccinations

Though most reactions dogs will have to vaccinations will be mild and short-lived, in a few rare cases they can have more severe reactions that need immediate medical attention.

Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that involves facial swelling, diarrhea, itchiness, hives, vomiting and breathing difficulties, can occur either very soon after your dog receives the injection or up to 48 hours after the vaccine is administered.

If your dog displays any of these symptoms, call your vet immediately or contact the emergency veterinary clinic closest to you.

How are vaccine reactions treated?

For reactions that are non-life threatening and confined to the skin, cortisone and anti-histamines can be used and will generally be quick treatments that clear up issues rapidly.

In severe cases, a vet may use epinephrine to bring your dog immediate relief from life-threatening distress. If your dog is in shock with a slow heart rate, decreased blood pressure and potentially weakness, immediate medical assistance will be needed. You may also see a gray tongue and pale mucous membranes.

In these cases, medications and intravenous fluids will be provided to help your dog recover and restore vital signs. Cortisone and epinephrine may also be used in these circumstances.

Fortunately, adverse reactions as a result of vaccinations can often be reversed with proper treatment and your pet should recover shortly.

Can I prevent my dog from having a reaction to a vaccine?

Vaccines help protect your dog’s long-term health, and the risk of having a serious reaction to a vaccine is very low for most dogs.

However, if your dog has previously had an adverse reaction to a vaccine, it’s important to inform your veterinarian so this history can be recorded. In this case, your vet may recommend skipping a specific vaccination in the future.

Your dog’s risk of an adverse reaction to vaccination somewhat increases when multiple vaccinations are administered during one appointment. This can be particularly true for smaller dogs.

To help minimize the risk of an adverse reaction, your vet may recommend spreading your dog’s shots out over several days rather than all at once.

Should I have my dog revaccinated?

If your dog has an adverse reaction to a vaccine the first time, revaccinated him or her after their episode could lead to one of these circumstances:

  • No adverse or inappropriate reactions, and the dog’s immunity to the disease it’s being vaccinated for will increase
  • A vaccine-induced reaction can occur, similar to the previous episode
  • A serious, potentially fatal vaccine-induced reaction

You and your vet will need to do a detailed risks and benefits assessment concerning vaccines. If a reaction does happen, being revaccinated for the same disease could be dangerous.

If the vaccine is legally mandated by your local municipality, you can request your veterinarian advocate on your behalf and send a statement using the animal hospital letterhead that another dose of the vaccine could be potentially life-threatening to your pet.

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.

Do you suspect your dog may be having a reaction to a vaccine? Contact our Charlotte vets right away. Our experienced veterinarians can provide urgent and emergency care during our regular business hours. 

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