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What is Adverse Reaction to Rabies Vaccine?

Cats need to have a rabies vaccine to protect them, especially if they are outdoors and have the potential of having personal contact with other animals that could be affected with the rabies virus. In the United States, the number of reported rabies cases in cats exceeds the number of cases in dogs. Rabies is a major health concern since it is able to be passed between species and to humans. 

In most states, it is mandatory for your cat to have the rabies vaccine. Some counties allow for a three year vaccine to be given while others require a yearly vaccine. Be sure to research your county’s laws regarding vaccinations for your cat. If you are unsure about what vaccinations are required by law for your cat, contact your veterinarian for assistance.

Generally, if your cat has a reaction to the rabies vaccine it will be minor. There have been cases, though, where the reaction is life threatening. When your veterinarian administers the rabies vaccination to your cat, be sure to watch your cat closely for several hours for any signs of having an adverse or allergic reaction.

Symptoms of Adverse Reaction to Rabies Vaccine in Cats

Your cat may exhibit mild symptoms of an adverse or allergic reaction to the rabies vaccine. Those symptoms will generally lessen over a few days and then disappear. Your cat may also develop serious symptoms from their vaccine that will need definite veterinary intervention and treatment. If you notice any of these symptoms, mild or severe, contact your veterinarian for an immediate appointment. 

Symptoms of a mild reaction or allergy to the rabies vaccine in cats include:

  • Vomiting
  • Swelling at the injection site
  • Pain at or near the injection site
  • Fever (low grade)
  • Diarrhea
  • Appetite loss
  • Lethargy
  • Itching 
  • Sneezing 

Symptoms of a serious reaction to the rabies vaccine in cats include: 

Vaccine Associated Fibrosarcoma

This is the development of a cancerous tumor at the injection site. The tumor can develop from a few weeks to a year after the vaccination has been given.

Organ Damage

The protein that is in the rabies vaccine can potentially damage your cat’s kidneys, liver and/or central nervous system. Organ damage can occur up to 45 days after the vaccination has been given. 

Anaphylactic Shock

Immediate veterinary care is required if your cat experiences anaphylactic shock, death can occur quickly without prompt treatment. Symptoms of anaphylactic shock include facial swelling, difficulty breathing, coma, seizures, 

Vaccine Induced Rabies

This is extremely rare and only can occur with the live-virus vaccine. Cats will show symptoms within 14 days of the vaccine being administered.

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Causes of Adverse Reaction to Rabies Vaccine in Cats

An adverse reaction will occur when your cat is exposed to some form of allergen, in this case, something within the rabies vaccine, and its immune system begins attacking itself. Many times when a cat has a rabies vaccine reaction, it is from the live virus vaccine or from the chemical compounds that are added into the vaccine so they are more effective. Another cause of having a reaction to the rabies virus can be when multiple vaccinations are given at the same time.

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Diagnosis of Adverse Reaction to Rabies Vaccine in Cats

Your veterinarian will begin their assessment of your cat by asking about your cat’s medical history including any recent vaccinations, diet changes or environmental changes. They will then conduct a physical examination. A urinalysis, fecal exam, complete blood count and biochemistry panel may be completed to rule out other possible causes of the adverse reaction.

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Treatment of Adverse Reaction to Rabies Vaccine in Cats

Once your veterinarian has determined the cause of your cat’s reaction, they will discuss treatment options with you. Usually, mild cases will not require treatments unless it is an antihistamine and/or corticosteroid to stop itching or sneezing. Anti-inflammatories may be given to reduce swelling. 

If your cat has developed a more serious adverse reaction or allergy to the rabies vaccine, your veterinarian will need to administer treatments. These treatments will probably be supportive care in the form of intravenous fluid therapy, oxygen therapy and close monitoring of their vital signs. 

If your cat has gone into anaphylactic shock, emergency measures will need to be taken to keep your cat’s airways open so they are able to breathe. Oxygen support will most likely be necessary. Epinephrine will be given as well as antihistamines.

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Recovery of Adverse Reaction to Rabies Vaccine in Cats

Your veterinarian can help you protect your cat from developing a serious rabies vaccine allergy, or another reaction once they know that your cat is sensitive to the vaccine. Using only inactive or dead virus vaccines may help your cat not have as severe of a reaction. Also, ask your veterinarian if three year rabies vaccine will suffice or if your county requires a yearly vaccine. 

Have your veterinarian set a vaccination schedule that prevents your cat from getting more than one vaccine at a time. Prior to giving the rabies vaccine, ask your veterinarian about administering an antihistamine to reduce the allergic reaction that your cat experiences.

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Adverse Reaction to Rabies Vaccine Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Feline

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Six Years

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Unknown severity

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Lethargy

My cat received a rabies vaccination three weeks ago and is now acting lethargic and weak out of nowhere. Could this be the vaccination? Should we have him seen or wait?

July 31, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. It is quite unlikely that the lethargy that you are noticing now has anything to do with the vaccination three weeks ago. It seems that there might be something new going on, and it would probably be a good idea to have your cat seen by a veterinarian. They will be able to examine your cat and see why he is lethargic and weak, and let you know more what might be going on and if any testing needs to be done. I hope that he is okay.

July 31, 2020

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short hair cat

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7 months

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Drooling

We got a kitten on Saturday and took her to the vets for her shots on Monday. She got her rabies, distemper, and flea and tick at 4 pm. It is now 9 pm and she is drooling what looks to be mucus and a lot of it. I know that stress can be a cause of drooling and shes in a new environment with a dog and got her shots today. but i'm still really worried that it might be a reaction to the treatments from earlier today.

July 21, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. I'm sorry that she is having problems. You are right, drooling can be a result of stress or not feeling well. If she is able to eat and drink overnight, she may be fine. It would be best to give her a quiet place to eat and drink, so that she can rest., and watch her. If she is vomiting, does not want to eat overnight, or the drooling continues, then it would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian in the morning. I hope that all goes well for her.

July 21, 2020

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Short hair housecat

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8 Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

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Limping, Lathargic, Extreme Curve To His Spine,

We recently got a kitten. I took both cats to get up to date on their vaccines. It was the first time my 8 year old cat had been to the vet since he was neutered at 6 months. At first I thought he was limping because the kitten was wrestling too hard with him but now I'm concerned it's something else.

July 12, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Ellen M. DVM

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Hello, thank you for your question. I am sorry to hear that your cat is limping. Without examining your cat it is very hard to know for sure what might be going on. What you describe could be consistent with a minor injury due to playing too rough, but if he's lethargic and still limping, I am concerned. It could be that your kitten bit him and the bite wound is now infected - these can sometimes be hard to see, but can be very painful. It's also possible that he has bone or joint damage from something. I recommend that you schedule another visit with your veterinarian. They will likely want to examine him to see if there is any evidence of a pocket of infection. They may also recommend an x-ray of that leg to make sure there is nothing going on with the bone or in a joint. They should be able to give him some medication to help with his discomfort as well. I hope that your cat starts feeling better soon!

July 12, 2020

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Wilbur

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Orange and white

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2 Years

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Mild severity

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Seizures

Have a 1 1/2 yr old male cat that was given a rabies shot. Several days after he started flopping on n the floor and fell down the stairs. I just held him do he wouldn't hurt himself. Then administered benadryl. He remained lethargic for see call hours. He has been fine for about a month. Last night he had another seizure. Could this be from the rabies shot? If so, how long and how often will this occur. Its pretty violent when he is flopping around helplessly. What can I do for him?

Sept. 25, 2018

Wilbur's Owner

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Hope

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Cat

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9 Weeks

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Fair severity

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Sleepy

We got the rabies shot from the district vet, we were supposed to give 1ml per cat and my husband did not listen and gave my 9week old cat 2ml. Will this be a major issue.

Sept. 20, 2018

Hope's Owner

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Rascal

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American Shorthair

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19 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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Hair Loss

Took my 19 yr old cat for a rabies shot three days ago. He has fine before I took him to the vet and now he keeps running out the house to be outdoors (he never liked being outside) and when I got him back from the vet he had a wet spot at the site of the shot, but now he has a bald spot on the same place.

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Bobbie

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domestic short hair

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3 Years

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Swelling
Limping
Excessive Licking
Sensitivity To Injection Site

My cat has a reaction to his first 3 year rabies vaccine. (he’s only 3 so the first vaccine was a 1 year) I saw a new vet at my usual practice and she gave my cat the rabies vaccine into his foot. He had immediate swelling and had developed a bump that has not gone away (he got the vaccine a few months ago!) He still seems to have sensitivity to the area and will occasionally limp and excessively lick the area. I am aware that a lot of vets like to give rabies vaccines in different areas each time to lessen the chance of developing sarcoma, but I have never seen if given in the foot area. My boy also has cerebellar hypoplasia. I’m wondering if since he already is a bit deformed and has motor skill issues, If the vaccine could’ve affected his motion in that foot? I’ve brought him back to that vet and a different vet at our practice and they seem to have no idea to what is wrong with his foot. I’m also wondering that since CH is a neurological condition, if I should only get him 1 year rabies vaccines instead of three years? I’d love to hear back from anyone who’s cat has had vaccines given in the foot/leg before, or if they’re CH cat has been negatively effected from vaccines. I’ll be scheduling another follow up with a different vet office to see if there’s anything I can do for my little buddy! Hope everyone’s cats are happy and healthy :) *I posted this before but I’m an idiot and put the wrong email!

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Bobbie

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Domestic shorthair

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3 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Swelling
Limping
Sensitivity To Injection Site

My cat has a reaction to his first 3 year rabies vaccine. (he’s only 3 so the first vaccine was a 1 year) I saw a new vet at my usual practice and she gave my cat the rabies vaccine into his foot. He had immediate swelling and had developed a bump that has not gone away (he got the vaccine a few months ago!) He still seems to have sensitivity to the area and will occasionally limp and excessively lick the area. I am aware that a lot of vets like to give rabies vaccines in different areas each time to lessen the chance of developing sarcoma, but I have never seen if given in the foot area. My boy also has cerebellar hypoplasia. I’m wondering if since he already is a bit deformed and has motor skill issues, If the vaccine could’ve affected his motion in that foot? I’ve brought him back to that vet and a different vet at our practice and they seem to have no idea to what is wrong with his foot. I’m also wondering that since CH is a neurological condition, if I should only get him 1 year rabies vaccines instead of three years? I’d love to hear back from anyone who’s cat has had vaccines given in the foot/leg before, or if they’re CH cat has been negatively effected from vaccines. I’ll be scheduling another follow up with a different vet office to see if there’s anything I can do for my little buddy! Hope everyone’s cats are happy and healthy :)

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Gizmo

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Dlh

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5 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Throwing Up, Listless (Somewhat)

My neutered male cat approximately five years old had a rabies vaccine today and has been throwing up since and sleeping mostly. I talked to him and he is responding but this has never happened before

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Misha

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Domestic shorthair

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10 Years

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Critical severity

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Critical severity

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Spinal Break

My kitty Misha seemed fine after her rabies injection. It was given in her lower back an inch or two away from her spine. About 5 years later, while I was on vacation, my sitter called to say I needed to come home right away. Misha's back broke. The vet said that a sarcoma formed in the area of her vaccination and ate through her spine. There was nothing they could do at that point. He shared with me that they were finding more instances of injection site sarcomas. This was in 1996. I have refused the injection for all my cats since then but recently my kitty Murray required dental surgery and the vet said by law I had to vaccinate him and if I didn't and he bit someone in the office, he would be put down immediately, so I relented. They said they now do the injection into the leg so if FISS occurs, they can easily remove the leg and not lose the cat. This is disgusting and very disappointing. The laws need to change. All my cats are indoor cats, I never board them and they don't come in contact with any other animals. How can they continue this barbaric procedure.