Vaccine Reactions: Underreported and Unrecognized, Not Unimportant

July 16, 2012

Dr. James R. Shannon, former Director of the US National Institute of Health, has been widely quoted as saying: “The only safe vaccine is one that is never used.” 

But are adverse vaccine reactions really a big deal? Aren’t they just the “fever and fatigue” we’re warned about after yearly shots? Or is there more to learn?

And aren’t moderate and severe adverse reactions rare? Let’s answer this question first.

Reactions are considered rare, in part, because reporting is rare. Unlike reporting for human vaccine reactions, required by the National Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, reporting is voluntary for reactions experienced by animals. Furthermore, there is no federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) for animals as there is for humans, nor is there a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). That does not mean that adverse events aren’t a serious a problem for animals. In fact, because animals are given numerous vaccines repeatedly (and unnecessarily) throughout their lives, rather than just in childhood, the problem is likely worse.

WSAVA Vaccination Group Guidelines (p. 18) recognizes that there is “gross under-reporting of vaccine-associated adverse events which impedes knowledge of the ongoing safety of these products.”  AAHA (p. 19) says, “Although AE [adverse event] documentation in veterinary medicine is limited, severe adverse reactions are considered uncommon.” But if reporting is rare, how do they know?

Perhaps the biggest problem in underreporting is the failure to match an illness or problem to a vaccine. Unless reactions closely follow vaccination, the incidents are often viewed as coincidences, not VIDS — vaccine induced reactions. Vaccine reaction education, both during vet school and after, is inadequate according to scientist and educator Dr. Ron Schultz speaking at the Safer Pet Vaccination Seminar and to many others quoted in Vets on Vaccines: Inadequate Education.

In addition, veterinarians often don’t want to believe or admit that the drug they administered caused an animal’s death or suffering.  To make recognition of VIDs even more difficult, the veterinarian who sees the reaction may not be the same one who vaccinated the animal. The client, inadequately versed about possible reactions, may even fail to mention that the pet was recently vaccinated or was “never the same” after vaccination.  And, sadly, animals can’t tell us: I starting feeling awful after that shot.

Furthermore, reactions may follow vaccination by weeks, months or even years. And there’s also the self-fulfilling prophecy: don’t expect reactions and you won’t recognize them when you see them.

Here’s another big problem: When your pet suffers an illness or behavior change, you can’t just click on a link and see if it might be linked to a vaccine. Why is that? The USDA has the information but does not make it readily available.

So, back to the first question: are adverse vaccine reactions a big deal? Here is a partial list of reactions compiled by world-renowned vaccination researcher, Ron Schultz, Ph.D.  Dr. Schultz is on the board of the AAHA Canine Vaccine Task Force (all three taskforces actually) and the WSAVA Vaccination Guidelines Group, is Chairman of the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been researching and doing studies on over-vaccination since the 1970’s: 

Mild Reactions

  • Lethargy
  • Hair loss/hair color change at injection site
  • Fever
  • Soreness
  • Stiffness
  • Refusal to eat (transient)
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Sneezing
  • Oral ulcers

Moderate Reactions

  • Immunosuppression 
  • Behavioral Changes
  • Vitiligo
  • Weight Loss (Cachexia)
  • Reduced Milk Production
  • Lameness
  • Granulomas/Abscesses
  • Hives
  • Facial Edema
  • Atopy
  • Respiratory Disease
  • Allergic uveitis (Blue      Eye)

Severe Reactions

  • Vaccine Injection Site Sarcomas
  • Anaphylaxis 
  • Arthritis, Polyarthritis  – Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD)  
  • Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA)
  • Immune Mediated Thrombocytopenia (IMTP
  • Hemolytic Disease of Newborns (Neonatal Isoerythrolysis)
  • Thyroiditis (possibly immune mediated)
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Disease or Enhanced Disease which the vaccine was designed to prevent
  • Myocarditis
  • Post Vaccinal Encephalitis or polyneuritis
  • Seizures
  • Abortion, congenital anomalies, embryonic/fetal death, failure to conceive

In an article in DVM360 entitled Vaccination: An Overview, Dr. Melissa Kennedy states:  “Adverse reactions have also become a major concern in small animal medicine. … These fall into two general categories. The first is immediate hypersensitivity. This may be a local or systemic response, and is due to pre-existing antibody to the agent. This is the classic “allergic reaction” to the vaccine and can be life-threatening. The second is a delayed response, requiring days or longer to develop. The vaccine, seen as foreign, elicits a significant inflammatory response and is especially true for adjuvanted vaccines. This response can manifest as a granuloma, or more seriously, a fibrosarcoma.”

She also reports “The likelihood of adverse reactions in dogs has been found to correlate with the size of the dog and the number of inoculations given, with higher risk associated with small size and multiple inoculations.”

For more about vaccine reactions in dogs, see the AAHA Canine Vaccination report, p. 20.  

To report reactions, read Reporting Reactions to Vaccines, Veterinary Drugs and Pet Foods.

Has your dog or cat suffered a vaccine reaction? Tell us your story. And read the vaccination stories of others.

Related articles:
Questions to Ask Before Vaccinating

Clinical Approaches to Managing and Treating Adverse Vaccine Reactions by W. Jean Dodds, DVM  

Vaccinating Cats and Small and Medium-Size Dogs: A Special Danger

To avoid reactions, read Rabies Vaccination: 13 Ways to Vaccinate More Safely and Protecting Dogs From Vaccine Reactions 

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20 Responses to Vaccine Reactions: Underreported and Unrecognized, Not Unimportant

  1. Don Busch on May 26, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    I have a video of my 15 year old mixed terrior full of energy and playing with one of her toys. That was in mid February of this year. On April 4’th, she was given a Rabies and Parvovirus vaccination together. She acted strange within hours afterwards. Days after, she started becoming lethargic, diarrhea, vomiting, walking with apparent discomfort, arthritic symptoms, wetting her bed, loss of appetite, loss of coordination, back legs collapsing, weight loss, and a blank stare. My vet made no big deal of it and I was advised to give her an anti- inflammatory and a pain killer, After three more days I complained again that they wre not solving her Issue’s and I stopped giving them to her. I brought her back to my vet and had a blood work done which revealed her
    kidneys and liver were shut down. They said it wasn’t the vaccinations, rather her old age! She died afterwards.

    • adminjr on June 8, 2016 at 9:36 am

      Don, I’m sorry for your loss. Please make sure you report this untimely death to the USDA and drug manufacturer. That’s the only way to make vaccine makers accountable. Also, they will sometimes pay your vet bills if you raise a fuss.

      Of course it was the vaccines. Why was your senior dog given a parvo “puppy shot” anyway? Shame on your vet. A caring vet would have found a way to skip the rabies as well, with an exemption. If you have other pets, please fire your vet.

  2. Paula on May 2, 2016 at 10:20 am

    I’m hoping you can help me make good decisions for my new rescued 3.5lb, 11-ish week old Chihuahua pup. We rescued her from a parking lot but she wasn’t there long. I have another rescued Chi who came from an organization and foster which I respect – even love – but they required certain vaxes and procedures.

    I almost lost my now 4 year old Chi when a recommended local so-called holistic vet administered Lepto bundled with the 5+1!! When I called this vet to report the reaction she said it was normal and I shouldn’t worry about it. I should mention I do performance sports, agility and obedience, with my little dog (we like to represent the Chi as a dog who can do more than sit on laps ☺️) and I intend to to do the same with my new pup.

    After my first Chihuahua’s rabies shot her personality changed from sweet and willing to aggressive toward other dogs. I do NOT want this to happen to my new pup and because I can make ALL the decisions for her health without requirements I want to do the right thing. A week ago she had a DHPP because we worried about Parvo in situations she’d be exposed to. They want me back in a month for a booster. Is this necessary? Also when is the optimum time to administer rabies vax? I know NOT to give Bortatella but she will need rabies, I just don’t know when. Please assist. Thank you!

    • adminjr on May 2, 2016 at 5:21 pm

      Hi Paula. It’s nice to hear from someone before their dog has a vaccine reaction!

      I’m not a vet, but if your Chi were mine, I’d give another vaccine at about 15 weeks. Then three or four weeks later I’d do a titer test to ensure immunity. You want distemper and parvo but could do without the other P and H, although you can’t likely find a vet who will do this.

      Please read and I hope this helps.

  3. Cheryl Massey on April 21, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    On March 14, 2015, I took my GSD, Sam, to the vet for his annual shots. The vet had given him two shots that day, one for leptospirosis and the other was the rabies and combo booster. One in the right leg & the other in the left.

    When I took Sam to the vet he was in perfect health, except a bump on his left leg that came up from last years shot. They did a biopsy and found more mast cells than the vet was happy with. She gave him an antibiotic, a prescription strength Benadryl, and a steroid. He started wetting the bed the next night. The bump almost disappeared but when the meds stopped it came back up, but since has gone down.

    He loves to run and jump. Well that has all changed. Within four days, he was having trouble with his back right leg. He was having trouble jumping up on the bed, jumping up to catch his ball when we played. Over the weeks it has gotten worse. Now in the last two days, his right leg is giving out on him. I bought a two-step pet step for him, but is won’t use it–still working with him on it though. I took the bed frame out from under the king-size bed I have, hoping it would be easier for him, but it didn’t make much difference. Sam will put his front paws on the bed and I will lift him up by cradling his back legs, he cries every time, but he wants sleep beside me.

    This morning he sort of jumped down off the bed and his back legs collapsed. That has been happening off and on all day. Now after doing research and ready info on your site, I see that the rabies vaccination can cause the problems he is having. I had called the vet on March 18, because of the bed wetting and was told by the receptionist not to worry because it was the steroids. He finished those around April 17, but is still wetting the bed. Trying to talk to his vet is near impossible. At this point I’d be happy to talk to a vet tech. Going to try again tomorrow to talk to the vet. But I will be changing vets–tired of this run around.

    • adminjr on April 22, 2015 at 9:45 am

      Cheryl, if I wanted to destroy a dog’s health, I’d do what your vet did. The most dangerous vaccines are rabies, lepto and combo shots. And your ignorant vet gave them all together. On top of them, if your dog is older than 16 months, most of them were likely unnecessary. Why would an adult dog need puppy shots?

      Rabies is supposed to be given in the right leg and is never part of a combo shot. The lepto often is, although it shouldn’t be. Each additional vaccine given increases the chance of a reaction. It also makes it impossible to determine which vaccine caused the problem. Or was it the combination?

      What else? No dog suspected of having a tumor on his leg should be getting vaccines.

      Your vet is also giving “annual shots,” something no informed vet does anymore. You shouldn’t be tired of the “run around.” You should be tired and furious about the reckless, ill-informed behavior of your vet.

      Make sure every detail of your dog’s problems are in your dog’s file then get a copy. It is your property. Then, report this reckless behavior to your state board and to the vaccine manufacturers.

      Find a good vet to treat your dog. You’ll likely need a holistic vet. Failure to treat this properly will be dangerous to your dog’s health.

      I wish you the best of luck.

  4. Betty Stanford on March 4, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    my dog went for her yearly shots and she came home and 2 days later she came down with kennel cough the vet had a outbreak of kennel cough in his daycare and never informed me of that otherwise I would’ve never taken my dog in there now my dog is sick that it’s kennel cough she’s coughing up phlegm and they put her on anabiotic’s and a cough suppressant and she still is sick from her shots as usual for three or four days it’s lasted longer this time I never knew all this about vaccines I don’t think I will take her again for vaccines without a test and help them with the vaccines up thank you for your help

    • adminjr on April 3, 2015 at 11:54 am

      Betty, it’s unlikely that your dog, as an adult, needs vaccinating except for rabies every three years. Please read this:

      There are no reliable titer tests for the kennel cough vaccine. And the vaccine is next to useless.

  5. Amelia Torrant on November 18, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Hello, Our 9yr. old neutered Great Pyrenees Koda had a Bordetella internasal on Oct16 2014 before this date and up to the morning of Oct.26 he was healthy. On the morning of Oct. 26 he was very finicky with his food which is not like him( he enjoyed his food so much he would close his eyes enjoying each bite) Also drooled more than usual, noticed him standing with his head tilted not sure what he wanted to do.That pm he did not want his food again. First thing Mon.

    Oct27 is when our world fell apart until Wed. Nov. 5th when our bigger than life dog passed. I cannot go into detail at the moment but what I will tell you in short is that after doing many blood panels, slushys Sucralfate for his ulcer, and having him on Atopica and Prdnisone treatment for ITP. The last and final day we did his last bloodwork and our vet told us that he had Evans Syndrome. We took him home and he passed at home with the help of a vet that does house calls she basically helped to ease Koda’s pathway. That morning when we brought him to our vet his gums were bright red, by the time we brought him home they were pale white as well as his tongue~ we had to put him on a stretcher to get him in the car home. Going there he was able to walk to the car.

    On the 27th of Oct. that first day to vets I asked the vet if the Bord. would have had something to do with the symptoms he had and he said that basically no because the internasal does just that basically. On the day we took him for his bord. the attending vet that day said Koda looked in great shape, Koda was never sick in the 4 yrs. we had him, we resecued him thru FGPC here in Fl. My husband and I are heartbroken we wish we could have done more and I want to understand what happened and why. I just wish I knew why. I don’t think our youngest Pyre will be getting any more Bor. ( I need to find a new vet to work with. Thank you so much, Amelia Torrant~ Also before starting him on the meds he vomited blood ( that’s when I started giving him Sucralfate slushy’s~ After being on the Atopica and prednisone for 2 days he had blood in his stool and we found a pile of black tarry stool outside. Could someone here help me((( understand )))

    • adminjr on December 18, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      Amelia, I’m so sorry for your loss. I just read your post; for some reason I wasn’t notified.

      You asked if anyone could help you understand the loss of your dog. I have a couple articles you might want to read. and

      Vets don’t warn us that vaccines are powerful medicines that can cause serious adverse reactions. Vaccinate only when necessary. (Bordetella is seldom necessary.)

      I’m sorry for your loss.

  6. Charlotte Schiller on October 22, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    I adopted a Shar Pei through a rescue six years ago. At the time he came into rescue, he was a stray and weighed only 30 lbs. His normal healthy weight is 45 lbs. While I truly appreciate the work that rescues do, Luke was loaded with vaccines and neutered. He never should have had this done to him when his health was in such a vulnerable state. He shouldn’t have been vaccinated at all. When I got him, his hair was falling out in clumps, his skin was flakey and dry and he was nervous, frightened and aggressive toward men. I discovered that he had thyroid disease. He is now nine years old and doing very well on grain free food, aloe vera, yogurt and omega fatty acid supplements but he always be on thyroid meds. I believe, although I can’t prove it, that the vaccines destroyed his thyroid. I do not vaccinate. I had two previous Shar Pei that died at early ages from cancer. I also suspect that vaccines were the cause of their early deaths. One of them had swelling the size of two golf balls in his glands on his neck immediately after rabies vaccine. My vet refused to admit that it was the result of the rabies and, unfortunately, I bought her story. I think it eventually caused his death.

    • adminjr on October 28, 2014 at 4:29 pm

      Charlotte, you wrote: ” I suspect that vaccines were the cause of their early deaths. My vet refused to admit that it was the result of the rabies vaccine…” I hope this is your ex-vet. Your dog is so lucky to have you in his life.

      Re the thyroid disease, over-vaccination can cause autoimmune disease. Have you heard of autoimmune thyroiditis?

      Keep up the good work.

  7. Denise Rodriguez on September 17, 2014 at 9:10 am

    So after reading and seeing the video what does anyone recommend doing when a 1 yr old yorkie is due for vaccine? Should I lower the dosage and do one at a time and which one of the vaccine is important for them to have 1st?

  8. Ten Vaccine Myths!! - Dog Health & Nutrition - Dog Forums - on December 15, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    […] W. Jean Dodds Interviews TITER TEST Considerations | VacciCheck Antibody Titer Test Vaccine Reactions: Underreported and Unrecognized, Not Unimportant | Truth4Pets Should I Give My Dog a Booster Shot? | Truth4Dogs Dog Vaccinations Mindlessly Defended | […]

  9. Reduced Vaccine Doses for Tiny Dogs: A New Study by Dr. Jean Dodds | Truth4Dogs on November 11, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    […] you’re unaware of the dangers of adverse vaccine reactions, or of the particular Dangers of Vaccinating Small Dogs, click these links.  — Jan […]

  10. nancy on July 23, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Years ago right after my Airedale was given the rabbies shot she had a seizure.

  11. Alceste on June 20, 2013 at 3:07 am

    I have a dog for three months I put the micro chip, I live in Italy.
    vaccinations are mandatory for the first few years? I do not want to vaccinate my dog
    What can I do instead?

  12. Phyllis Nowosad on December 17, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    I hope this changes things.

  13. What Your Vet Must Tell You about Vaccines (but probably won’t) | Little Big Cat on October 14, 2012 at 6:09 am

    […] it and read our companion article at our new not-for-profit all-vaccination website –  Vaccine Reactions: Underreported and Unrecognized, Not Unimportant.  Learn what world-class experts say about vaccine reactions. Watch other videos from well-known […]

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