Cat & Dog Vaccine Safety and Side Effects

The risk associated with vaccine reactions and side effects is relatively low, especially when compared to the risk of contracting a serious disease. Here, our Columbia vets talk about why vaccines are crucial to a dog's well-being, the possibility of side effects and what to expect if your dog has a reaction to a vaccine.

What are vaccines important for your dog's health?

Your dog should start receiving vaccines when they are still a puppy so they can get their best chance at long-term good health. Vaccinations typically require boost shots every one to three years depending on the shot in order to ensure ongoing protection. This is because the efficacy decreases over time. A few of the most important vaccinations for puppies are rabies, parvovirus, and hepatitis.

However, not all dogs require every available vaccine. The specific vaccines your dog should get depend on your dog's lifestyle, age, and where you live. Together these factors determine your pup's risk of contracting diseases that can be prevented with vaccinations. Your vet will be able to help you determine which immunizations your canine companion should get.

Are there any potential side effects of vaccinations?

Like any other medical procedure, vaccinations also have a small risk of complications such as adverse reactions. Reactions to a vaccine are uncommon, however, when they do occur they are typically very mild and short-lived.

By knowing the signs of a reaction and what steps to take if it happens, you can help decrease stress and ensure that your dog is treated quickly. Some of the common side effects of vaccinations are:

  • Lethargy - Sluggishness and mild discomfort are the most common reactions dogs experience to being vaccinated. Sometimes this is also accompanied by a mild fever caused by your pup's immune system responding to the vaccination. These mild symptoms are normal and should only last a day or two. If your dog isn’t back to normal within 48 hours, contact your vet to let them know.
  • Sneezing & Cold-Like Symptoms - Most vaccines are given through injection but, the parainfluenza and Bordetella bronchiseptica virus vaccines are administered in the form of nasal sprays or drops. Reactions to these vaccines are similar to the symptoms of a cold including a runny nose, coughing, and sneezing. Your pooch should recover from these side effects within a couple of days. If these symptoms become worse or it’s taking your dog a long time to recover, you should call your vet.

Serious Reactions to Vaccines

While most reactions dogs develop after receiving a vaccine are mild and short-lived, in some rare cases, our canine companions can have more severe reactions that need immediate medical attention.

  • Anaphylaxis - This severe allergic reaction can involve facial swelling, diarrhea, itchiness, hives, vomiting, and breathing difficulties. This type of severe reaction will usually occur very soon after your pet receives the injection, (typically while you are still at the vet's office) but can happen up to 48 hours after the vaccine is given.
  • Shock - The 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 is having a serious reaction to their vaccines you should contact your vet right away, or call the nearest emergency veterinary clinic!

How are vaccine side effects treated?

The good news is that the reaction will likely occur before you've even left the veterinary clinic, and the symptoms will improve quickly once treatment begins. Treatment for side effects may include:

  • Reactions that are not life-threatening and confined to the skin may be treated with cortisone and antihistamines. Once your dog begins treatment you can expect the symptoms to ease fairly quickly.
  • Both 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. Cortisone and epinephrine may also be used in these circumstances.

Can vaccine reactions in dogs be prevented?

Vaccinations help to protect the long-term health of your pup, and it's essential for you to know that the risk of having a serious reaction to a vaccine is very low for the majority of dogs.

When a dog has had a serious reaction to a vaccination, the veterinarian will add it to their medical record so they can keep track of it and avoid any future issues. If your pup has previously experienced a reaction your vet might suggest skipping a certain vaccine in the future.

The risk of a reaction may increase slightly if your dog will be receiving more than one vaccine during their visit. This is especially true for smaller dogs. To help minimize the risk of an adverse reaction in your pet, your veterinarian may recommend spreading your dog’s vaccinations out over several days rather than all at once.

Will future vaccinations be safe for my dog?

It is impossible to tell if your dog will have a reaction if the vaccine is administered again in the future. Some pets will have no reaction when they have the vaccination a second time, some dogs will experience the same reaction that they had previously, and in rare cases, dogs will experience a serious life-threatening reaction to the vaccine.

If your dog had a serious reaction to a vaccine in the past and is due to have a booster, you will want to speak with your vet to determine the risk to your dog. Depending on the reaction and the vaccine needed, your vet will either recommend that they skip that specific shot or in some cases, the risk of serious disease is far greater than the potential risk of side effects and they will recommend another attempt.

In cases where the vaccine is legally mandated by your local municipality, speak to your veterinarian about advocating on your behalf and send a letter using the animal hospital letterhead explaining that 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.

Is your dog in need of routine vaccinations and preventive care? Contact our veterinarians in Columbia today to schedule an appointment.