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11 Side Effects of Rabies Vaccine for Puppies

Laws on the rabies vaccine for puppies are pretty strict around the world. This is because rabies is a highly contagious deadly disease that can affect people and animals.

Even though dogs are required by law to get a set of core vaccines in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, pet owners are worried. Side-effects are usually the first concern when considering vaccines for dogs.

This post is designed to give you more information on vaccines in general while providing a list of the most common side effects of the rabies vaccine in puppies.

Best Age to Get Your Dog Vaccinated

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.

Canine influenza is one example of that.

There are a number of vaccines that are required at various ages in your dog’s young life.

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

Age of dogCore Vaccines/RecommendedOptional Vaccines
6 – 8 weeksDistemper 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 puppiessame 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 booster as required by law.none
Source: American Kennel Club 2021

Pre-Vaccination Prep

If your dog does experience some swelling and/or itching, your veterinarian might recommend a medication like Benadryl.

NOTE: Most vets will not recommend stopping vaccinations entirely just because of a minor vaccine reaction.

Was it Really the Rabies Vaccine that Caused the Side Effects?

Veterinarians usually give each vaccine in a separate location. That way they can identify local reactions to specific vaccines.

But this still leaves a grey area when a dog has general side effects of rabies vaccine in dogs.

One way to avoid this problem is to break up the vaccines, and give them separately a few weeks apart.

Some veterinarians encourage this and some don’t.

Talk to you vet about splitting up your dog’s vaccines if this concerns you. It absolutely can’t hurt to do them each separately!

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

What is IN a Rabies Vaccine for Dogs?

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. 

the rabies vaccine in puppies is the law.

Who Can Give a Rabies Vaccine to a Dog?

A rabies vaccine is not one that you can buy and give at home, like many other canine vaccines.

It must be given by a licensed veterinarian, or a certified veterinary technician under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Records of rabies vaccinations are kept meticulously by all veterinarians.

Every time your dog gets a rabies shot, you should receive a certificate proving your dog has had the vaccine.

Your vet will also keep this information, which includes the vaccine brand and lot number. He/she may be legally obligated to provide your home county or state with a listing of every pet they have given rabies vaccines to.

This will vary from location to location. In my area, vets must be mandatory reporters to the county. This allows the county to ensure that all of the dogs get licensed locally.

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

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 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.

I have seen locations that require the vaccine to be given every year- even though the manufacturer has licensed it as a 3 year vaccine!

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 vaccinating.

Problems with Titer Testing

Problems with titer testing rather than straight vaccination include not being able to license your dog. Authorities will not consider your dog as having been vaccinated.  It is not legally recognized.

Second, there is not enough science behind titer testing to know when a specific immune response means a dog is protected from contracting rabies.

What this means is while a titer test can show that a dog is producing antibodies in response to a vaccine, we have no idea where the cut off is for immunity.

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.

The third problem with titer testing, and the rabies vaccine in general, is that we have no idea how long the titer/vaccine is good for beyond the manufacturer’s 3 year license. It probably varies from dog to dog.

Read the AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines for a better understanding.


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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.

If, like me, you have a dog who should not have vaccines due to a medical problem, please know that in many locations a veterinarian can NOT exempt your dog from the legal requirement to be up to date on the rabies vaccine.

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. 

Common Side Effects of Rabies Vaccine In Dogs

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 nothing to be alarmed about.

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. Severe 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

A rare side-effect of the rabies vaccine can 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. Severe 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.

Help Your Dog Breath Easier

Dogs can be just as affected by air pollution, smoke from forest fires, an allergies the same as people can. If you dog has any health conditions (beyond the side-effects of a vaccination), consider clearing the air.

People are flocking to CritterZone to energize the air in their homes. It’s a great way to ensure the air you breath is safe AND it reduces smelly pet odor from your home. It’s like bringing clean, outdoor air right into your home.

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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.

When Rabies Attacks the Brain

Once an animal has the rabies virus, it attacks the brain and nervous system. Signs of rabies can appear rapidly, or they can take anywhere from 3 – 12 weeks to appear.

Rabies virus infections are almost always deadly. There’s no turning back if your dog contracts rabies. Sadly, the chances of survival are slim.

There’s No Testing

Rabies isn’t the kind of disease that you can test for and treat. The only way to determine if a living animal has rabies is to quarantine them and wait for symptoms.

If the pet does have rabies, there is no treatment to help them.

The only way to protect your pet is to ensure they get the rabies vaccine. In this case, any potential side-effects of the vaccine are far better than the outcomes of the disease.

Get Informed About Vaccines

Want more information on vaccines and their side-effects? Read 11 Clinical Reasons to Get the Bordetela Vaccine.


Rabies is a serious, fatal disease for humans and animals. 

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, talk to the veterinarian.  Don’t miss those vaccination appointments!

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!

Comments? Questions? contact me directly at


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Jen Clifford has a B.A. in Biology from Reed College. She was a field biologist for several years and then spent 10 years working in veterinary medicine as a receptionist and technician.  Jen is currently a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest with her tribe of pets. She is a passionate animal lover who is dedicated to helping people find solutions to their pet-related challenges. You can find more of her work on her website

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