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Rabies Vaccine Side Effects in Dogs: What’s Normal and What’s Not?

While the rabies vaccine is generally safe, it’s important for dog owners to be aware of potential side effects. In this article, we will explore the common side effects of the rabies vaccine in dogs and how to mitigate them. We will also share the rare but serious side effects of the vaccination and when you should get in contact with your vet. 

What is rabies?

Rabies is a fatal disease caused by the Lyssavirus. It can infect all mammals, including dogs and humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports approximately 5,000 cases of rabies in animals each year. 

In the US, there are five types of rabies prevalent in fox, raccoon, skunk, canine (coyote and dog), and bat populations. All five types are transmissible to dogs and almost always result in death once symptoms manifest. Rabies is transmitted through bites from infected animals, primarily through saliva or mucous membranes, and primarily affects the nervous system.

The following are symptoms of rabies in dogs:

  • Vicious, erratic behavior (the classic form)
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Heightened sensitivity to visual and auditory stimuli
  • Weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Death from respiratory failure

Once symptoms appear, rabies generally results in death in 3 to 8 days. There is no treatment for rabies. The good news is this disease can be easily prevented via a rabies vaccine for dogs.

Does my dog need the rabies vaccine?

It depends on where you and your dog live, and whether you are planning on doing some traveling. If you live in a country or territory where rabies still exists, like the US for example, then absolutely! In fact, in many places dogs are legally required to get the rabies vaccine.

Alternatively, if you are planning on traveling with your dog, then a rabies vaccination will be required. Many countries and airlines require dogs to be vaccinated against rabies before export and import. 

Related postHow Often Does a Dog Need a Rabies Shot?

Common Rabies Vaccine Side Effects in Dogs.

The rabies vaccine is a crucial tool in preventing the spread of this deadly disease, but like any medical intervention, dogs can experience side effects. It is essential to remember that most dogs experience no adverse reactions to the vaccine. However, in some cases, dogs may exhibit the following mild to moderate side effects after their rabies vaccine:

Localized Reactions.

It is not uncommon for dogs to experience temporary swelling, tenderness, or discomfort at the site of the injection. The swelling occurs as a result of the body’s immune response to the vaccine. 

To help alleviate swelling and discomfort, you can apply a cold compress or ice pack wrapped in a cloth to the injection site for short durations. This can help reduce inflammation and provide some relief. It is important not to apply ice directly to the skin as it may cause cold burns.

In most cases, the swelling will resolve on its own within a few days. However, if the swelling persists, worsens, or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it is advisable to consult with your veterinarian for further evaluation.

Mild Allergic Reactions.

Dogs may occasionally develop mild allergic reactions to the vaccine. Symptoms may include itching, hives, or a rash. Your vets can provide guidance on how to manage these symptoms and may recommend antihistamines or other appropriate treatments to alleviate the allergic response.

While mild allergic reactions are generally resolve on their own, it is crucial to monitor your dog closely for any signs of worsening symptoms or the development of severe allergic reactions, such as difficulty breathing, facial swelling, or collapse. If any of these severe symptoms occur, immediate veterinary attention should be sought, as it may indicate a more severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which is a medical emergency.

Digestive Upset.

In some cases, dogs may experience vomiting or diarrhoea as a potential side effect after receiving vaccines, including the rabies vaccine. These gastrointestinal symptoms are generally considered mild and often resolve on their own within a short period of time.

If your dog does experience vomiting or diarrhea after vaccination, it is typically recommended to provide supportive care and monitor their condition closely. Ensure they have access to fresh water to prevent dehydration. You can also consider feeding small, bland meals such as boiled chicken and rice to help settle their stomachs.

If the symptoms persist for an extended period or are accompanied by other concerning signs, it is advisable to consult with your veterinarian for further evaluation.

Loss of Appetite.

Some dogs may experience a decrease in appetite, while others may completely lose interest in food for a short period of time.

Typically, the loss of appetite is transient and resolves within a day or two. It is important to monitor your dog during this time and ensure they have access to fresh water to stay hydrated. It is generally not a cause for significant concern unless the loss of appetite persists or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms.


Many dogs experience temporary fatigue or lethargy after receiving vaccines, including the rabies vaccine. Fatigue can occur as a normal response to the vaccine stimulating the immune system. The body’s immune response requires energy, and as a result, some dogs may exhibit mild to moderate fatigue or a decrease in activity levels for a day or two following vaccination.

This fatigue is usually temporary and resolves on its own as the dog’s immune system returns to its normal state. Not all dogs will experience fatigue after vaccines, as individual responses can vary. Providing a calm and comfortable environment for your dog to rest during this period can help them recover and regain their energy.

Rare but Serious Rabies Vaccine Side Effects in Dogs.

While rare, some dogs do experience serious side effects after their rabies vaccine. Dog owners should be aware of these potential complications and seek veterinary attention immediately if they occur. Serious side effects of the rabies vaccine in dogs may include:


Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that can occur in dogs as a rare side effect of rabies vaccines. It is important to note that anaphylactic reactions are very uncommon, but it is essential for dog owners to be aware of the possibility and recognize the signs.

Anaphylaxis can occurs shortly after the administration of the rabies vaccine, often within minutes to hours. It is an immediate hypersensitivity reaction that involves an exaggerated response of the immune system to a particular antigen in the vaccine. The antigen triggers the release of histamine and other substances, causing a cascade of allergic symptoms throughout the body.

The signs of anaphylaxis in dogs may include:

  1. Difficulty breathing: Dogs may exhibit rapid, shallow breathing, gasping for air, or wheezing due to airway constriction or swelling.
  2. Facial swelling: Swelling of the face, muzzle, lips, or eyes may be observed.
  3. Hives or skin rash: Dogs may develop raised, itchy bumps on the skin, which can rapidly spread throughout the body.
  4. Weakness or collapse: Anaphylaxis can cause weakness, lethargy, or even collapse in severe cases.
  5. Gastrointestinal symptoms: Dogs may experience vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive salivation.

Vaccine-Associated Sarcoma (VAS).

Vaccine-Associated Sarcoma (VAS) is an extremely rare but serious side effect that can occur in dogs following the administration of a rabies vaccine. VAS is characterized by the development of malignant tumors at the site of vaccination. These tumors are aggressive and can infiltrate surrounding tissues, making them challenging to treat. The exact cause of VAS is not fully understood, but it is believed to be a complex interaction between the vaccine components, genetic factors, and an individual dog’s immune response.

It is important to remember that the low risk of VAS should not deter pet owners from vaccinating their dogs. The risk of rabies is much higher than the risk of your dog contracting VAS. Rabies itself is life-threatening and poses a significant risk to both animal and human health.

Minimizing Rabies Vaccine Side Effects in Dogs.

To minimize the risk of side effects and ensure the overall well-being of your dog, it is crucial to follow these guidelines:

Choose a reputable veterinarian.

Seek a qualified veterinarian who is experienced in administering vaccines and can provide guidance on any concerns you may have.

Follow the vaccination schedule.

Stick to the recommended vaccination schedule as advised by your veterinarian. Avoid skipping or delaying vaccinations, as it puts your dog at risk of contracting rabies.

Monitor your dog post-vaccination.

Observe your dog for any signs of discomfort or adverse reactions following the vaccination. If any unusual symptoms persist or worsen, seek prompt veterinary attention.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Ensure your dog is in good overall health by providing a balanced diet, regular exercise, and a stress-free environment. A healthy immune system can help reduce the likelihood of adverse vaccine reactions.

What to do if you notice side effects from your dogs rabies vaccine?

Temporary fatigue, slight increase in body temperature, mild discomfort, and decrease in appetite are all expected side effects of the rabies vaccine in dogs. These are all indications that the vaccine is fulfilling its intended purpose of activating the immune system.

If you observe these symptoms, allow your dog to rest, shower them with affectionate care, and keep a close eye on their condition for a couple of days.

These side effects from your dogs rabies vaccination should only last a day or two. If your dog’s symptoms do not subside after a few days or you have concerns about your dog experiencing discomfort, contact your veterinarian. They might recommend pain medication to alleviate any discomfort and promote your dog’s well-being.

How long is the rabies vaccine good for?

The initial rabies vaccine is good for one year, and then additional boosters are required every 3 years.

Does my dog really need a rabies vaccine?

It depends on where you live. In certain countries and territories it is a legal requirement. For example, if you live in the US, rabies vaccines for dogs are required by law. Check with your local governing authority to find out whether your dog needs a rabies vaccination.

Can rabies vaccines make my dog sick?

As with all vaccines, some mild side effects are common. Many dogs will experience soreness, swelling, loss of appetite and fatigue for a few days. If these sympoms persist for longer than a few days, or you notice anything particularly abnormal, contact your vet.

Does my dog need a rabies vaccine to travel?

Yes, in most cases. Many countries require that dogs are vaccinated against rabies before export and import. It's also a requirement of many airlines.

Bottom Line

While many dogs experience no significant side effects, it is essential for dog owners to be aware of potential reactions to ensure the well-being of their furry companions. Common side effects such as localized reactions, loss of appetite and fatigue should only last a few days. If your dog is in severe discomfort following his rabies vaccination, contact your vet immediately. 

Ultimately, the benefits of vaccinating against rabies far outweigh the minimal risks associated with potential side effects. Rabies is a lethal disease that poses a significant threat to both animal and human health. By ensuring proper vaccination, dog owners can provide a safe and protected environment for their beloved companions, contributing to the overall health and well-being of their pets and the community at large.

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