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11 Side Effects of Rabies Vaccine for Puppies – Your Complete Guide

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Paula Simons

State law requires that all dogs in the United States be vaccinated against rabies. This is because rabies is a highly contagious deadly disease that can affect people and animals.

If you have a puppy and you’re worried about vaccine side-effects, read this post for reassurance. You’ll learn more about the differences between core vaccinations and non-core vaccines.

We’ll walk you through the the additional vaccinations available for your dog along with the reasons why or why not they might be important.

A Quick Guide to Dog Vaccinations

Vaccinations sometimes get a bad rap for their potential side-effects. The reality is that dogs face a number of dangerous and sometimes fatal diseases. Not all vaccines are mandatory, but there are good reasons to keep your dog up-to-date.

You may need to look up your local regulations or contact a veterinarian to find out which vaccines are mandatory in your area.

Are Vaccinations Optional for Dogs?

The truth is that not every dog needs to be vaccinated against every disease. A licensed veterinarian will be able to recommend the most important vaccines for your dog based on:

Your Dog’s Age

Puppies may be more at risk of some diseases because of their immature immune systems. When puppies contract viruses they usually succumb to typical symptoms that include vomiting and diarrhea. Unfortunately, puppies can quickly become dehydrated. It’s usually the dehydration that causes death.

Some dogs, including seniors, may have underlying conditions that put them at risk of certain viral or bacterial infections.

Medical History

A licensed veterinarian will want to know your dog’s medical history. This includes past infections, medications, underlying conditions, surgical procedures, etc.

Geographic Location

The environment you live in plays a significant role in the risk of disease for your dog. If you live in an area endemic for tick bites, the veterinarian may recommend a vaccination against Lyme Disease.


If you travel with your dog, the veterinarian will want to know where you travel and for how long. This is for the same reason as above. Essentially, travel can put your dog at higher risk of developing certain disease.

Pet’s Lifestyle

Lifestyle includes the places your dog goes on a regular basis. If you frequently visit dog parks or your dog attend doggy daycare, for example, the vaccine for Kennel Cough may be advised.

The Rabies Vaccine is Mandatory

Rabies is fatal. If your dog contracts this incurable virus, it will attack the brain and the spinal cord. Thankfully, it is preventable through vaccination.

The reason you don’t hear about dogs contracting rabies is because the vaccine is mandatory. According to the CDC, the United States has been free of dog rabies since 2007.

Rabies is still present in wildlife and livestock in the United States, and dogs can contract the disease from these animals.

Just because you don’t hear about dogs contracting rabies doesn’t mean your dog shouldn’t receive the vaccination.

This includes bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks. This may not mean much to you if you live in the city. However, people in rural areas may come into contact with these animals on a regular basis.

STATISTICS:  40% of people bitten by a rabid animal are under the age of 15. ~ World Health Organization

World Health Organization

All it would take is a bite from any of these wild animals for your dog to contract the fatal disease.

Purpose of Puppy Vaccines

Puppies are temporarily protected from some illnesses from their mother’s milk. However, that doesn’t last very long. By the time your puppy is 6 – 8 weeks of age, he/she will need to begin a vaccination protocol.

As mentioned above, not all vaccines are mandatory. Some vaccinations are recommended based on your pet’s lifestyle.

The following is a quick snapshot of serious diseases your dog could contract. Although these are considered non-core (not mandatory), they are highly recommended.

Lyme Disease

According to Dr. Paula Simons, there may be some debate over whether the Lyme disease vaccine should be recommended.

Tick borne diseases are endemic in many places within the United States, Canada, and Europe. The deer tick (also known as black-legged tick) carries the virus which is transmitted through a tick bite.

Preventing tick-borne illnesses are easier than treating them. Your best best is to begin a regular flea and tick prevention program. This usually involves a monthly topical application or the administration of a chewable tablet.

For more information read: Flea Pills Without a Vet Prescription

Canine Influenza

Canine influenza (dog flu) is a contagious respiratory disease. It is caused by specific Type A influenza viruses. Although it is not known to be transmitted to humans, it can easily pass from pet to pet.

Bordetella (Kennel Cough)

Kennel cough, also known as tracheobronchitis) can be caused by a number of viruses and bacteria.

These viruses include adenovirus type-2, parainfluenza virus, canine coronavirus, and the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Although the condition is typically mild, some dogs including puppies, may not have a strong enough immune system to fight the infection. Kennel cough is easily caught in places like dog parks or where animals share water bowls, etc.

When Should My Puppy Get Vaccinated?

Puppies can get their first rabies vaccination between 16 and 18 weeks of age. In fact, there are several vaccines (some required; some optional) that are given at various points in a puppy’s life. Below, you’ll find a puppy vaccination schedule used by the American Kennel Club.

It’s important to protect your dog against deadly and contagious diseases that can affect your dog, but may also be transmitted to other dogs.

The following puppy vaccination schedule was sourced from the American Kennel Club and is considered a general guideline.

Age of dogCore Vaccines/RecommendedOptional Vaccines
6 – 8 weeksCanine Distemper and ParvovirusBordetella Vaccine for Dogs
10 – 12 weeksVaccines for distemper, adenovirus (aka hepatitis), parainfluenza and parvovirusFlu shot, leptospirosis, Bordetella vaccine, and possibly Lyme disease vaccine.
16 – 18 weeksDHPP and rabies vaccine for puppies.
DHPP (distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus) is commonly called the distemper shot. It is a combination vaccine that protects against all four diseases.
same as above
12 – 16 monthssame as abovesame as above
Every 1 to 2 yearsDHPP (these are the vaccines for distemper, adenovirus and canine influenza)Influenza, Coronavirus, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease per lifestyle
Every 1 – 3 yearsRabies annual booster shot or as required by law.none
Source: American Kennel Club 2021

Side-Effects of the Rabies Vaccine in Dogs

It’s important to note that the benefits of vaccinations outweigh the risks.

Serious side-effects are rare. Veterinarians, however, are aware that they can happen. For that reason, it’s important to have your dog vaccinated during a time when you can monitor them for the next 24 hours.

Common Side-Effects of the Rabies Vaccine in Dogs:

The most common side-effect of the rabies vaccine is pain and some swelling at the injection site. Your dog may be a little sleepy or sluggish and may have a lower appetite.

Mild symptoms are typically short-lived and resolve in 1-2 days.

Rare Serious Side Effects of the Rabies Vaccine in Dogs:

Serious side-effects are rare. However, there is a small risk of the following:

  • Facial swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue

Any swelling around the face should be reported ASAP as this could be a sign of anaphylactic shock. Keep reading for a more detailed overview of potential side-effects of the rabies vaccine in puppies.

What Are the Ingredients in The Rabies Vaccine?

A rabies vaccine is manufactured from a killed form of the rabies virus. There is no chance of your dog getting rabies from having the vaccine.

When injected under the skin (subcutaneous injection) or into the muscle (intramuscular injection), it stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies to the virus.

These antibodies will prevent your dog from contracting an active form of rabies if they should happen to be exposed to the virus. 

Rabies vaccine law infographic.

Rabies is Fatal in Humans and Animals

Once an animal or person is showing signs of rabies infection, there is no cure. It is 100% fatal.  The risk of the vaccination far outweighs the deadly disease.

People exposed to rabies can undergo a series of shots that prevent them from developing the active disease.

This is why the vaccine is a legal requirement of dog ownership. In many parts of the world, rabies still kills animals and people.

Rabies is entirely preventable and, in some countries, vaccinations are the law.

Rare severe reaction to a rabies vaccine include severe swelling of the face, neck, and possibly other parts of the body (severe anaphylaxis), difficulty breathing, collapse/seizures.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Rabies Vaccine for Puppies and Dogs

How Often Does a Dog Need a Rabies Vaccine?

Your dog should get a rabies vaccine between 4 to 6 months of age. It is good for 1 year.

The manufacturer recommends your dog get a rabies vaccine at 6 months old, then a booster shot at a year and a half, followed by a second booster at age 4 and a half (and every 3 years thereafter).

Some areas have laws that require the rabies vaccine be given more frequently.

What About Doing a Rabies Titer Test instead of Vaccinating?

Many owners are interested in doing titer testing, rather than just routinely vaccinating their dogs.

A titer test is a blood test that measures whether a dog is producing antibodies to a specific, vaccine preventable disease.

Titer testing is only done by some laboratories, and is more expensive than vaccination. Some states will not accept titers as acceptable alternatives to Rabies vaccines.

Are There Problems with Titer Testing?

As pet parents become increasingly concerned about over-vaccination or serious side effects, you may hear more about titer testing. Titer testing involves blood tests to measure immune system proteins. These proteins are known as “antibodies”.

Antibodies are triggered to fight off infections.

The theory is that rather than get “too many vaccines”, a dog can be tested to see if he/she still has enough antibodies to fight off disease. If the antibodies are still present in significant numbers, perhaps the dog won’t need additional vaccinations in the near future.

Potential Problems with Titer Testing for Dogs:

  • Not being able to license your dog. Authorities may not consider your dog as being fully vaccinated.
  • Lacking science behind titer testing to know when a specific immune response means a dog is protected from contracting rabies.
  • There is no magic number a vet can point to and say “your dog is immune to rabies.” This is why titers are not a legal substitute to vaccination against rabies.
  • It’s not possible to predict the duration of immunity.

Read the AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines for a better understanding.

Rabies Laws Are Strict

If you are concerned about the side effects of rabies vaccines in dogs, please talk to your vet.

They can give you information about your local laws, and your dog’s specific risks based on their lifestyle.

NOTE: Current laws about rabies vaccination derive from a time when most dogs lived outside and were exposed to wild animals frequently.

The Dangers of Rule Breaking 

The ramifications could be anything from a state mandated quarantine period and heavy fines, all the way to having your dog euthanized.

Rabies is no joke, and the law is firmly on the side of public safety. If you can, keep your dog’s rabies vaccines up to date. 

11 Side Effects of Rabies Vaccine In Dogs

As promised above, the following is a more detailed explanation of potential side-effects of the rabies vaccine in dogs.

Remember that serious adverse reactions are rare. The most common side-effect is a little fatigue, pain or swelling at the vaccination site, and slight fever.

1. Discomfort and Swelling

Vaccinations are normally given as injections and whenever you stick a needle into the skin, it’s going to hurt. This is temporary and not harmful.

2. Mild Fever 

Mild fevers are common side effects of rabies vaccine in dogs. Vaccines do not contain live disease, but they do create a temporary immune-response that tells the body, “Hey, let’s get busy fighting this new thing.”

3. Lack of Appetite

While the antibodies “get to work”, the body slows down other functions including the appetite. 

4. Tiredness

Some dogs will be a little drowsy after a vaccination. Again, this is temporary and not harmful. 

5. Mild Flu-Like Symptoms

Some side effects of rabies vaccine in dogs includes cold or flu-like symptoms.

Sneezing, mild cough, or even a runny nose are all possibilities. It could take up to 5 days for these symptoms to disappear, but they are not serious.

6. Hard Lump Under the Skin

The rabies vaccine is an injection.  A little swelling can occur at the site of the injection.  This is one of a few minor side effects of rabies vaccine in dogs. It’s usually nothing more than mild discomfort.

If you suspect your dog might be experiencing more severe side-effects (like facial swelling) please don’t hesitate and get your dog to the veterinarian.

7. Vomiting

This is one of the more severe side effects of rabies vaccine in dogs. If your dog starts vomiting frequently after a rabies vaccination (or any vaccination), bring him/her to the vet.

8. Your Dog Can’t Stop Itching

We’ve all seen dogs writhe around on their backs, blissfully getting that itchy spot. The difference with this is that the dog will become frantically itchy. His/her skin may even develop hives.

9. Face, Neck, or Eye Swelling

In rare cases, severe reactions include mild to severe facial swelling. In the case of anaphylactic shock, the dog’s airway can swell and block the intake of oxygen.

This is an emergency requiring immediate veterinarian care.

10. Cough

This is a rare side effect of rabies vaccine in dogs, but it can happen. 

You might notice a mild cough along with the sneezing and runny nose mentioned above. However, if the coughing gets worse, consult your veterinarian. 

11. Difficulty Breathing

If your dog is having difficulty breathing, you’ll see it in the rise and fall of his/her chest cavity. Your dog will be distressed and might paw at his/her mouth.

As your dog tries to take in more oxygen, it might sound like he/she is coughing. This could go hand-in-hand with the symptom above.

How Could My Dog Get Rabies?

You might be wondering if it’s even possible for your dog to get rabies in this day and age. Sadly, the answer is yes.

Pets can contract rabies after coming into contact with the saliva of an infected animal. You might be more likely to see bats, raccoons, skunks, or foxes in rural areas, but don’t be fooled. Wild animals stalk city streets as well.

Signs of Rabies in Dogs

According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 5000 animal rabies cases are reported annually. Approximately 10% of the cases were in domestic animals. The other 90% were in wild animals.

Rabies is a very serious illness that can be passed from animals to humans. Sadly, it produces severe symptoms that result in death. This is why it’s vital for dog owners to maintain their dog’s vaccinations.

Vaccinations are the best prevention against a variety of infectious diseases.

Signs of infection in dogs:

  • Major behavioral changes (very agitated, easily stimulated, fearful, aggressive)
  • Some dogs may try to bite, show their teeth, bark, and become violent
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Death

If you believe your dog has rabies, it’s critical to isolate your dog to a room or kennel. It’s especially important to protect you and any other people or animals in the house from the dog’s saliva (through a bite, for example).

Once your dog is out of the house, you must disinfect using a solution of water and bleach to inactivate the virus.

Contact a veterinarian or emergency veterinary clinic ASAP for further instruction.

How to Lessen The Risk of Rabies Affecting Your Dog

There’s nothing better than letting your dog run free in the backyard. Unfortunately, some dogs are prone to wander off. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell.

Sometimes that’s all it takes for them to disappear into the woods or someone else’s property.

Wireless Fence

A wireless electronic pet fence is the best way to keep your dogs from straying. If you have a dog that is prone to wander off, consider this as an option.

Most importantly, it helps prevent nasty interactions with wildlife. It won’t help if wildlife strays across your property, but at least it will help to keep your dog(s) safely home.

You can place the heavy duty outdoor receiver unit anywhere your dog is not allowed to go.

The light-weight electronic pet collar sends an ultrasonic signal that triggers a loud audible sonic blast at the receiver unit when the pet approaches the “off limit” zone.

The alarm is only triggered by your pet’s collar which means people can still come and go.

If you have more than one pet, you can simply add more collars.

Before you go!

We hand-picked a few posts that we thought might interest you. Have a look at these:

Read 11 Clinical Reasons to Get the Bordetella Vaccine.

The 4 Important Core Vaccines Your Indoor Cat Requires

Safe Vaccination for Canine Distemper Virus


Rabies is a serious disease for humans and animals. Many vaccinations provide protection against preventable diseases.

Mild side effects of rabies vaccine in dogs do occur, but serious side effects are rare. Getting your dog vaccinated against rabies is the law. There can be serious consequences for not having it done, including euthanizing your dog.

If you are worried, or if your dog has had reactions to vaccines before, speak with the veterinarian for the best medical advice. 

Take a list of question to your dog’s next veterinary appointment and don’t forget to ask about vaccination recommendations.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you’ll come back often so that you don’t miss out on some great material!


Merck Veterinary Manual

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