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

Rabies remains a critical health concern for pet owners worldwide, with vaccination serving as the cornerstone of prevention for dogs, cats, and other mammals. Approximately 24 million dogs get rabies vaccine each year in the United States.

Learning about the side effects of rabies vaccines in puppies is crucial for all pet owners to ensure the health and well-being of their furry companions. Let’s look into the subject, combining medical and scientific insights with accessible explanations.

Key Takeaways

  • Rabies is a virus that affects the CNS.
  • Common side effects of rabies vaccine in puppies are mild fever, loss of appetite and energy, soreness, and swelling at the injection site. 
  • Rare side effects of rabies vaccine in puppies include allergic reactions, gastrointestinal issues, swelling of the face, muzzle, or eyes, severe pain or swelling at the injection site, some respiratory and neurological issues, and even fainting.
  • Puppies should receive their first rabies vaccine between 12 and 16 weeks of age.
  • After the initial vaccination, a booster shot is required one year later.

Rabies and Vaccination Explained

Rabies is a deadly virus that affects the central nervous system. The symptoms can vary and may include:

  • Restlessness, irritability, and aggression.
  • Foaming at the mouth or excess drooling.
  • Overstimulation by lights, movement, and sound.
  • Physical signs like fever, difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, staggering, seizures, and paralysis.
  • Changes in behavior such as sudden relaxation, disinterest, or seeking out dark, quiet places to hide.
  • The inability to control muscles, especially in the head and throat, leads to difficulty swallowing and eventually breathing problems.

This virus is highly contagious and can infect humans. The importance of vaccination can’t be overstated, as it’s the only known method to completely prevent rabies in dogs.

Did you know? – In the United States and Canada, the rabies vaccines are inactivated, meaning the virus within the vaccine is killed and can’t cause the disease. This type of vaccine stimulates the dog’s immune system to create antibodies against rabies, offering protection without the risk of inducing the illness.

Common Side Effects of Rabies Vaccine in Puppies

Following the administration of the rabies vaccine, it’s not uncommon for puppies to experience certain side effects. These reactions are generally mild and short-lived, but recognizing them is important for monitoring your pet’s health and ensuring their comfort. Here’s a closer look at these common side effects:

Side Effect Description
Mild Fever A common reaction indicates the immune system’s activation in response to the vaccine. It’s part of the body’s process of building immunity against rabies.
Loss of Appetite and Energy Puppies may temporarily show a decrease in appetite and energy levels after the rabies vaccine. This usually resolves within a day or two.
Soreness and Swelling at the Injection Site The area around the injection site may become sore or slightly swollen, signifying the body’s reaction to the vaccine.
Typical Immune System Responses The presence of these symptoms should reassure pet owners that the vaccine is initiating the desired immune response. Monitoring and providing a comfortable space for recovery is usually all that’s needed.

When You Should Contact a Veterinarian Because of Common Side Effects?

Most side effects are mild and resolve on their own, but it’s essential to monitor your pet closely after vaccination. If symptoms persist beyond a few days or if more severe reactions occur, such as significant swelling, hives, or signs of distress, you can contact your veterinarian. They’ll provide guidance, reassurance, and treatment if necessary.

Rare Side Effects of Rabies Vaccine in Puppies

Certain puppies may experience more severe reactions to the rabies vaccine. These adverse effects can range from significant allergic reactions to more serious systemic issues. Being informed about these potential reactions allows pet owners to seek immediate veterinary care, which can be crucial in preventing more serious complications.

Allergic Reactions

Some puppies may exhibit allergic reactions to the rabies vaccine, characterized by symptoms such as hives, excessive swelling at the injection site, or even anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that can lead to shock, respiratory distress, and, in extreme cases, death if not treated promptly.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Vomiting and diarrhea are potential side effects, indicating a more severe reaction to the vaccine. While these symptoms can also be signs of various conditions, their sudden onset following vaccination should prompt a consultation with a veterinarian.

Swelling of the Face, Muzzle, or Eyes

Significant swelling in these areas can be a sign of an allergic reaction to the vaccine. This swelling can occur within minutes to several hours after vaccination and requires immediate veterinary attention to ensure the puppy’s airway remains open and breathing is not compromised.

Severe Pain or Swelling at the Injection Site

While mild soreness and swelling are common, severe pain or significant swelling at the injection site can indicate a more serious reaction. This may require treatment to alleviate pain and prevent infection.

Respiratory Symptoms

Sometimes puppies may experience coughing, difficulty breathing, or other respiratory symptoms as a reaction to the rabies vaccine. These symptoms can indicate an allergic reaction and warrant immediate veterinary evaluation.

Neurological Symptoms

Rarely, puppies may exhibit neurological symptoms after receiving the rabies vaccine. These can include seizures, changes in behavior, or signs of neurological distress. Such symptoms are serious and require immediate veterinary attention.

Collapsing or Fainting

This is another rare but serious side effect that can occur after rabies vaccination. It can be a sign of a severe allergic reaction or shock and demands urgent veterinary care.

Preventing and Responding to Severe Reactions

The possibility of severe side effects may be concerning, but it’s important to remember that they’re rare. Vaccination remains the most effective way to protect puppies from rabies, a fatal disease. Pet owners should discuss any concerns about vaccine reactions with their veterinarian, who can advise on the best course of action, including pre-vaccination medications to reduce the risk of severe reactions in at-risk dogs.

Being aware of both common and rare side effects of the rabies vaccine allows pet owners to make informed decisions about their pets’ health care. Prompt recognition and response to any adverse reactions are key to ensuring the safety and well-being of your pet following vaccination.

Rabies Vaccination Schedule

The rabies vaccination schedule is a structured timeline designed to provide maximum protection against the rabies virus for puppies and adult dogs.

Initial Vaccination

Puppies receive their first rabies vaccine between 12 and 16 weeks of age. This initial vaccination is crucial as it introduces the inactivated rabies virus to the puppy’s immune system, prompting it to begin producing antibodies against rabies. This process is the foundation of the puppy’s immunity to rabies.

Booster Shots

After the initial vaccination, a booster shot is required one year later. This booster reinforces the dog’s immune response to rabies, ensuring continued protection against the virus.

Following this booster, the vaccination schedule may vary depending on local laws and the specific vaccine used, but generally, dogs need a rabies booster once every one to three years.


Can a puppy receive its rabies vaccine earlier than 12 weeks of age?

No, puppies shouldn’t receive their rabies vaccine earlier than 12 weeks of age. This timing ensures that the puppy’s immune system is sufficiently developed to respond properly to the vaccine and build effective immunity against the rabies virus. Administering the vaccine too early could result in an inadequate immune response.

If my dog has an autoimmune disorder, should it still get the rabies vaccine?

Dogs with autoimmune disorders may require special consideration when it comes to vaccinations. Don’t forget to consult with your veterinarian about the best approach.

In some cases, the benefits of vaccination against a fatal disease like rabies outweigh the risks. Yet, your vet might adjust the vaccination schedule or recommend specific precautions to minimize potential adverse effects.

How long does it take for the rabies vaccine to provide immunity?

It typically begins to provide immunity within a few weeks after administration. Full protection is generally assumed after the booster shot, which is given one year after the initial vaccine.

Can the rabies vaccine cause rabies in my puppy?

No, the rabies vaccine can’t cause rabies in your dog. The purpose of the vaccine is to stimulate the dog’s immune system to develop immunity against rabies without risking infection.

What should I do if my puppy misses its rabies booster shot?

In this case, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Depending on how long it has been since the missed dose, your vet may administer the booster shot during the visit or suggest restarting the vaccination series to ensure your dog is fully protected against rabies.

Can I vaccinate my pregnant dog for rabies?

This is generally not recommended unless the risk of exposure to rabies is high. The decision should be made in consultation with your veterinarian, taking into account the stage of pregnancy and the overall health of the dog. In some cases, the risk of exposure may necessitate vaccination, but this should only be done under veterinary guidance.


The rabies vaccine is a vital tool in preventing a fatal disease in puppies and dogs. Yes, side effects can occur, yet they are generally mild and temporary. Recognizing and responding to severe reactions promptly is crucial for the health of the pet.

Through proper vaccination practices and attentive care, pet owners can protect their dogs from rabies while minimizing the risk of adverse effects. Getting familiar with these aspects of rabies vaccination empowers pet owners to make informed decisions for the health and safety of their pets, contributing to the overall effort to control and prevent rabies in the community.