Side Effects Of Dog Vaccinations: What You Need To Know

It’s no surprise why so many people hate their annual flu shots – they’re uncomfortable, can be time-consuming, and unless you anticipate being around a bunch of sick people, they may seem unnecessary. However, those potentially unpleasant aspects don’t mean that people shouldn’t get vaccinations – It’s easy to understand all the benefits they offer, and they help keep other humans around us safe from illness and disease as well.

Dogs, while very intelligent and loving, don’t necessarily grasp this concept of self-insurance and the greater good. They rely on their human owners to make sure they get what’s best for them, and that means up-to-date vaccinations. In most states, dog parents are required to get, at a minimum, a current canine rabies vaccine for their pup. They often opt for additional vaccines to protect against deadly ailments like canine parvo virus, sometimes called “kennel cough, as well – it seldom makes the visit any longer and it gives them peace of mind for their dog’s overall health.

Can Vaccines Hurt My Dog?

In short? No. In a little more depth? Technically, but it’s highly unlikely.

Vaccinations are a hot-button issue in the news when it comes to children, and all of that discussion can make even the most level-headed dog owner a little nervous. Sure, vaccines help if there’s ever an exposure to a deadly disease, but can they hurt a dog when they’re injected or inhaled? Being concerned about substances being injected into your four-footed companion is not only natural, it’s a huge part of being a responsible pet parent. Thankfully, vaccines are largely safe, with benefits that far outweigh the minimal risks they have a chance of carrying.

You may feel empathy when your pooch is getting a needle or a dose of intranasal (inhaled through the nose) vaccine, but it’s a routine medical procedure. In fact, with injected vaccines, the vet typically numbs the area with a cream to prevent discomfort before the needle. Dogs also have tough skin, as it needs to support coarse fur and isn’t constantly covered with cloth the way our skin is. Larger, heavily-coated breeds in particularly might not even feel the pinch of a needle if they’re skillfully distracted during the shot.

Possible Dog Vaccination Side Effects: Discuss With Your Vet

After a canine vaccine is administered, there is a small chance that your dog can have side effects from components in the vaccine. This is an important distinction, because it isn’t so much that the vaccine itself is dangerous, any more than peanut butter is dangerous to the average person, but rather the way a dog interacts with vaccine ingredients. Just like peanut butter can lead to anaphylaxis for human individuals with peanut allergies, individual canine vaccine patients with high sensitivity and allergy can have an extremely adverse reaction to an otherwise harmless substance. Therefore, the best way to prevent injuries from these potential interactions is by having a discussion with your vet before your dog’s vaccination appointment.

Preparing for a Dog Vaccination: FAQs For Pet Parents

When it’s time for your dog to get his vaccination, try to make the trip out an enjoyable one for your dog. You don’t want to have to drag him into the car the next time you need to head to the vet! Walk through these helpful frequently-asked questions with your veterinarian or their support staff at the clinic to feel more confident about the vaccination process:

Q: How Often Should I Vaccinate My Dog?

A: Provided your dog has no adverse reaction to vaccination ingredients the first time around, schedule a follow-up appointment. Do it even if it’s months or years in the future – provided your vet office can do that, of course. This will trigger an appointment reminder, a postcard, or a call from your vet’s office to remind you of the impending “booster shot” timing.

Q: Does my dog’s particular size or breed affect the way this vaccine works?

A: Side effects such as canine lethargy, lack of appetite or vomiting in dogs can become serious for smaller animals much more quickly than their larger counterparts. Additionally, certain traits like brachycephalic (“smooshed in”) noses on breeds like pugs can make steady breathing a challenge if there is any respiratory distress as a result of a bad vaccine reaction. If your dog has a particularly thick or tangled coat that will make it difficult to keep an eye on him post-vaccine visit, you might consider booking a grooming appointment beforehand just to be on the safe side. Much like humans, the color and quality of the skin (paw pads) and face (nose) will tell you quickly if anything’s “off” in your canine companion.

Q: Is my dog on any medication that could cause a reaction?

A: When you go to your family doctor, one of the first steps of check-in is a question about all of the medications that you’re currently taking. This is also crucial for canine medical care – even two harmless medications could have a harmful reaction if administered together without proper care. Be sure to list off any and all medications, including medical canine “treats” like joint supplements, before your doctor administers your dog’s vaccine.

Q: Can my dog be left alone at X time?

A: While we’d love to spend all day with our beloved furry family members, obligations like work unfortunately pull us away. Ask your vet if it is safe to leave your dog home alone, or in his crate, after his appointment. If not, ask them how long your pup should stay in view for safety’s sake – this will help you plan your day a little more easily and arrange for alternative caregivers if need be.

Q: Can my dog participate in X activity?

A: Depending on your dog’s overall health, your vet may want to limit his physical activity and association with other animals for a day or two while his body adjusts to the vaccine. This is normal and a great way to ensure your dog is getting the best protection from his shot. If you have multiple pets in the home, set up a quiet, comfortable, isolated area for your pup post-vaccination to keep his stress levels at a minimum.

Q: How can I help my dog through the vaccination process?

A: Ask your vet directly what you can do to help your canine companion through the vaccination process. Pet him softly and reassuringly while the shot is being administered, or keep a hand on his side throughout the examination and vaccine administration to ensure he feels supported and safe. Afterwards, be sure to follow your vet’s instructions and precautions to the letter to avoid well-meaning accidents.

What To Expect After Your Dog Has Received A Vaccination

The most serious, though rare, complication from a dog vaccine would cause anaphylaxis, a sudden swelling of the throat and nose tissues. Thankfully, if your dog is one of the rare ones that is allergic to a vaccine ingredient, he will begin showing obvious distress before you even leave the vet’s office. Other symptoms, however, can be a little trickier. Watch for:

If any of these symptoms occur, don’t hesitate to call your vet immediately for guidance. It’s always better to be safe than sorry – even seemingly small problems can pose a health risk to your dog if left unchecked.

Preventing Over-Vaccination

Over-vaccination occurs when, usually by accident, a dog is given another dose of a vaccine that he already viably has in his system. This problem occurs frequently with strays and adopted dogs, as the new owners are seldom sure that the old owners took care of their dog properly. In an effort to safeguard their new pup, the owners will schedule a vaccine appointment – but they might be risking their dog’s life without even knowing it.

A vet needs to know when and where a dog last had his shots, so do everything you can to gather this information prior to your vet visit. While there is a test that can see from your dog’s blood – called titer testing – if they have an active vaccine in their systems, this can be expensive and time-consuming. If you don’t have previous vaccination paperwork on hand, start your own dog file on the next vet visit. Commit to keeping clear records of the last time your dog received his shots so you know precisely when you need to bring him back in.

This file will also guard your dog in the event of an incident (such as a fight with another dog, a fight with a raccoon or wild animal, and so on). In these fights, collars can become torn or go missing, and the appropriate vaccine tags along with them – paperwork, on the other hand, will always tell the tale of your dog’s vaccination records. When you can prove your dog is safe from rabies due to a vaccine, they won’t need to be placed in quarantine or surrendered on suspicion of rabies. The same principle holds true if there’s ever a biting incident with a human – proof of vaccine means no painful anti-rabies shots to the stomach as a precaution.

Keeping An Eye On The Injection Site

Dogs and humans are not so different when it comes to irritated skin. If your dog experiences skin that is:

  • Unusually dry, especially around the injection site
  • Bruised or discolored around the injection site
  • Broken or featuring visible sores, particularly if they’re weeping
  • Injured by insects, bacteria, discoloration or pus

– it may be time to get a vet involved. Dogs have miraculous self-healing powers with a healthy immune system on their side, but some things are beyond “laying low” for a while to heal up. The same caution applies if they are obsessively licking, biting, or grooming their vaccine injection site. They’re only trying to clean and soothe the area the best way they can, but they can worry away the fur over time and leave the delicate skin exposed to allergens and germs.

What Vaccines Does My Dog Need?

Laws for mandatory dog vaccines vary widely from state to state, but most areas mandate that any licensed domestic dog needs to provide common vaccines. These required vaccines for dogs include rabies, which can be transmitted from animal to animal, parvo, which can kill young puppies, bordetella, and even a canine-specific flu shot. Determining which vaccines are mandatory and which are elective can generally be done by calling a local rescue group or researching city and state guidelines for pet ownership on the internet.

Your lifestyle does have a bearing on your selected vaccines – for example, if you’re planning on taking your pup on a hike over the weekend, Lyme disease vaccine is a must. Just like putting on flea treatment if you know you’re in a flea-prone area is smart, so is the practice of getting the vaccines you may need ahead of time to save yourself the heartache and hassle of dealing with that “rare” disease later on.

Talk with your vet about your pet’s lifestyle – where they go on their walk, if they ever visit the dog park, and so on. This will help build an accurate risk profile and enable your veterinary team to make personalized recommendations beyond the state-mandated vaccine suite. It’s especially important to mention any other pets in the home, as “herd immunity” can even be put in place within the house. In other words, don’t delay an important vaccine for a young, relatively healthy dog in your care. If you do, your older dog may end up battling any of the viruses that didn’t make landfall on your unvaccinated pup.


Vaccines have been used safely for all dogs and all breeds for many years, so you shouldn’t worry when it comes to getting your dog vaccinated. Just keep your pooch calm – and yourself, while you’re at it – and focus on the years of health and happiness you’ll have with your furry companion. Viruses won’t stand a chance, your dog will be protected from life-threatening diseases, and you’ll have the peace of mind that you were the one to make it happen.


  1. “Everything You Must Know About Vaccinating Your Dog.” The Drake, (no publish date), Accessed November 27, 2018.
  2. “Vaccinations for Your Pet.”, (no publish date), Accessed November 27, 2018.
  3. “How do I know if my dog needs to be vaccinated?”, April 10, 2011, Accessed November 27, 2018.



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