Rabies shots for dogs are not only required by many organizations to get your dog groomed or boarded, but many places require by law that your dog has the rabies vaccine.  Usually as a puppy your dog can get their first rabies vaccine between 4-6 months of age, after that the antibodies wane overtime and your dog will need booster shots about every year after their initial vaccine. 

Dog rabies is completely preventable with the vaccine.  The vaccine is not a live virus, so your dog is not at any risk of getting rabies from the vaccine.  With any vaccine there are side effects, and some that can be severe.  


Mild Side Effects

Side effects are usually mild.  They usually will occur a few hours after the vaccine is given and mild effects can last up to a week.  Side effects happen because the dog’s immune system becomes stimulated from the vaccine.  Mild effects include discomfort and swelling at the site of injection, this can last up to a week.  Other side effects are mild fever, decreased activity, lack of appetite, no desire to play, and continuous itching.  Your veterinarian may alert you of these side effects before your dog is given the vaccine.  


Serious Side Effects

There are some serious side effects that can happen as quickly as 1-2 hours after the vaccine, and may happen before you even leave the vet’s office.  Swelling of the face, eyes or ears can happen if there is an allergic reaction.  This is extremely dangerous because your dog’s airway may become blocked restricting their ability to breathe. 

Other serious side effects are hives, respiratory distress, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, or fainting.  Your dog may also have severe pain at the injection site that causes them to whine constantly. 

If any of these happen you will want to reach out to your veterinarian immediately.  


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Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions to the rabies vaccine can happen.  An allergic reaction can be usually diagnosed through visual signs and symptoms.  Allergic reactions can happen as quickly as 10 minutes after the vaccine, up to 1-2 hours after the vaccine.  Your dog could be allergic to vaccine antigen, or the minerals or proteins that are in the vaccine. 

Your veterinarian can help treat the allergic reaction with IV fluids, and oxygen.  If caught relatively quickly after the vaccine the reaction can be treated with antihistamine, corticosteroids, epinephrine injections. If the reaction is at the later stages 2-3 days after the vaccine, usually oral antihistamines, or corticosteroids are given.

It is very rare that your veterinarian will say it is too dangerous to give your dog the rabies vaccine since it is required by law in many places.  So in the future before giving your dog the vaccine they may dose them with antihistamines, or NSAIDs prior.  They may also want you to stay in the office after the vaccine to make sure an allergic reaction doesn’t happen.  Another option is to give your dog the vaccine, but from a different manufacturer.  This vaccine still may have the same proteins and such that can cause the allergic reaction, but it would be developed differently which may help. 


Chronic Problems

Rabies vaccines can cause chronic problems for dogs as well.  Some of these can be caused by other vaccines as well, not just the rabies vaccine.  Some of these chronic problems are cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, seizures, muscle weakness, autoimmune disease, or even benign tumors. 



All vaccinations have a risk.  It is important to know what to look for when your dog has been given a vaccine so you know what to look for in case of a reaction.  Severe side effects are rare, but you should let your doctor know if your dog presents with any of them for future vaccines.  The rabies vaccine is required in many areas, as well as in organizations to board and groom your dog.  


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