5 min read


Can Dogs Feel Sick After a Rabies Shot?



5 min read


Can Dogs Feel Sick After a Rabies Shot?


Rabies is deadly to humans. Worldwide, there are 55,000 deaths to humans due to rabies annually. Typically, rabies is transmitted through bites from bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes. Rabies vaccines are given to pets to protect humans. This is why public health departments across the United States require dogs to have rabies vaccinations. 

The rabies vaccine can be given to your pet every three years without harming even older or unhealthy dogs. Protecting your dog, family, friends, neighbors, and members of your community from rabies is an important responsibility.  

Some pet owners fear the rabies vaccination may make their dog feel sick. With some dogs, there have been adverse effects reported. How would you know if your dog is feeling sick and if those symptoms are from the vaccine or some other condition?


Signs Your Dog is Feeling Sick After a Rabies Shot

While veterinarians have scientific research that the rabies vaccination does not harm your dog, negative reactions are possible, though rare. It is wise to know the signs your dog may show when he is having a bad reaction so that you can treat him accordingly. 

There are biological and behavioral signs that your dog is not feeling well. Biological signs are noted in the physical appearance of your dog's activity level, and changes in your dog's intake and output of urine and stool. Just as people don't look well when they are sick with red, droopy eyes and runny noses, your dog may show these symptoms, too.  

Have you ever been ill and experienced changes in your energy level, moods and habits? When you observe your dog showing these types of changes in his behavior, these could be signs that something is wrong.

Your dog can't tell you when he does not feel well. That means you must be an astute observer of his personality, habits, and well-being. Whether your dog is a playful and energetic dog or more laid back, it should be noticeable to you when your dog has a change in activity level that would cause him to be move more slowly, have difficulty doing things he formerly did, or appear to be physically weak. 

If your dog is suffering from a condition that is affecting his breathing or respiration, you may notice your dog breathing heavy, panting, sneezing, or coughing. If the condition is related to an allergy, you may see your dog scratching more than usual. Take note of the parts of his body he is scratching to help determine the source of the itch. Your droopy dog may just look down, with droopy eyes, ears, tail and disposition because he is not well.

Be an observer of changes in your dog's behavior and general health. Studies on the effect of rabies vaccinations have reported rare but possible side effects. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control or CDC, the adverse effects of rabies vaccinations include vomiting, swelling at the site of the injection, lethargy, and hypersensitivity. Do not let those signs go unchecked. 

Just as with humans, changes in body functions will need to be checked by the doctor, or in your pooch's, the veterinarian. Your veterinarian has the responsibility to report any adverse effects to the vaccine manufacturer and appropriate authorities. Animals with a previous history of anaphylaxis can be medically managed and observed after vaccination.

Body Language

Below are some signs your dog may show if they are feeling sick after being vaccinated:

  • Panting
  • Scratching
  • Ears Drop
  • Weakness

Other Signs

Some other negative reactions include:

  • Vomiting
  • Swelling At The Injection Site
  • Lethargy
  • Hypersensitivity

The History of Reactions to the Rabies Vaccine


Old Yeller, by Fred Gipton, is the story of a dog who fought a rabid wolf to defend his family. The beloved dog became rabid and his owner, who was only a boy, had to shoot him to protect the family and to save the animal's suffering. 

The story was set in the 1800s. Even then, people understood the dangers of rabies and that a bite would be fatal. In North America, it was not until the 1900s that data were collected and methods were developed to control the spread of rabies. With these methods, human deaths have fallen from 100 a year to about 2 deaths annually. 

In the 1940s, vaccinations and public health policies were developed to control the spread of rabies. At that time there were about 40 cases of rabies each year in the United States. The campaigns to vaccinate dogs in the 1950s were largely responsible for the decline in deaths to humans due to rabies. And consider, the lives of pets are spared as they are protected from infection by the vaccine. 

A combination of factors must work together to keep dogs and humans safe from rabies: vaccinations, public education, trash removal, animal control, and public health policies must work together. 

The Science of Feeling Sick After a Rabies Shot


Rabies is a virus that is transmitted by saliva from a bite by an infected animal. It is believed that most, if not all, mammals can be infected with this virus. The virus enters the central nervous system and causes encephalomyelitis - which is fatal once symptoms develop. 

If your dog were to be bitten with the rabies virus, it can take up to a month for symptoms to develop. Once symptoms do develop, your dog would show these signs of the rabies infection: pica, fever, seizures, paralysis, hydrophobia, dropped jaw, inability to swallow, unusual aggression or shyness, excitability, and frothy saliva. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, if your unvaccinated dog is bitten by a rabid animal, he should be euthanized immediately. Regardless of health or vaccination status, if your dog bites someone, the recommended procedure is for the animal to be confined and observed for 10 days. 

Should your dog show signs of an adverse reaction to the rabies vaccination, see your veterinarian. Reactions to the vaccination are actually very rare and if they do occur, should be resolved very quickly. There are types of vaccination reactions that can occur and methods of managing them: 

  • Anaphylactic reactions can occur with some animals. If it is known the animal may be allergic, the veterinarian can provide an antihistamine to prevent the reaction. 
  • Systemic reactions involve changes to body functions, such as lethargy, loss of appetite and weakness. They usually disappear in one to two days
  • Local reactions at the site of the injection can involve swelling, redness or irritation. They can be managed symptomatically, observed, and seen by the veterinarian if they persist.  
  • Reactions can occur if vaccinations were not properly stored or administered. 
  • Reactions may also occur if the owner has not followed vaccination schedules. Make sure you follow your booster schedule!

With cats, there has been some concern with the development of sarcomas at the site of the injection in 1:1000 to 1:10,000 cases. With study, there have been revisions to vaccination schedules to reduce the risk of this side effect. This reaction has not been found in dogs. 

Training to Protect Your Dog from Rabies


Protect your dog from infection in the first place! The best prevention is to first vaccinate your dog even if you are afraid of possible reactions. Use good basic training with your dog so that he is under your control.  Animals get into trouble with rabies if they are bitten or bite others. Make sure your animal has a social disposition and teach your dog to be calm around other animals and people. 

Play with your dog so that you are attuned to his activity level and schedule. Observe signs of your dog having a healthy body so that you can read your dog's signals of not feeling well. 

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Safety Tips for Rabies Prevention

  1. Keep your dog away from aggressive animals.
  2. Keep your dog under control around animals and people.
  3. Teach your animal to stay calm around animals and people.
  4. Vaccinate your dog and follow booster schedules.
  5. Communicate with your veterinarian if your dog shows signs of reactions.

Written by a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 02/05/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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