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calling the shots: petplan pet insurance looks at vaccine side effects

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

I recently had the privilege of attending a talk by a great veterinarian named Dr. Alice Wolf, an adjunct professor at Texas A&M University who is board certified in both feline medicine and internal medicine.  She also happens to be a really great speaker.  The topic of her presentation was feline vaccine protocols, which I’ve talked about in previous blogs, but she also brought up something worth focusing on: vaccine “reactions.” 

Surely, you are familiar with the side effects of the vaccines that you get. The vaccination site is sore for a couple of days (or more), sometimes you feel terrible for a day or two afterwards, and in some cases, you may develop a fever.  Soreness at the vaccine site makes sense – you got a shot there, so there is local inflammation. Other side effects, like malaise or fever, are actually good signs – they mean that your immune system is reacting appropriately to the vaccine.

For the most part, it’s fair to say that dogs and cats generally do very well after receiving their vaccines. But just like us, they can have side effects too, so it’s important to know the signs so you can contact your veterinarian if necessary. 

Within a couple of hours after vaccines, your pet may show similar signs to those you experience post-vaccination, including fever, local discomfort/swelling, and decreased appetite. If your pet received a vaccine nasally (such as Bordetella), he may have nasal discharge or sneezing. These mild reactions are normal, but if they persist for more than a couple of days, or if your pet seems significantly uncomfortable, contact your vet.

Less commonly, severe side effects can occur due to “allergic” reactions. Vomiting and/or diarrhea, hives and facial swelling indicate a more severe reaction, and these occur, you should call your vet right away. 

If your pet has experienced vaccine reactions before, be sure to tell your vet before additional vaccines are administered. She may choose to premedicate your pet to try to avoid side effects and might ask you and your pet to hang out at the office for an extra half hour just to make sure your pet does well after her vaccines.

If your pet experiences the mild side effects mentioned above, try not to be discouraged.  Just like it us, it means the vaccine is doing its job. If you are ever concerned about your pet’s vaccine reaction, be sure to talk to your vet about it.

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Posted by J Harms
on April 16 2012 10:46

I always try to pre-med my dogs with Benydryl before vaccinations as a pre-cautionary measure. I have experienced allergic reactions including facial swelling and had one puppy drop into anaphylactic shock seconds after receiving his vaccine in the vet's office. He survived, but that incident made a huge impact on my vaccination procedures.

Posted by January Adams
on April 13 2012 13:49

This is very useful information. Good to keep and read right before appointments.

Posted by Vickie Georges
on April 04 2012 13:29

I was very interested in this article and would like to read more on vaccines and reactions. In fact, some reactions can occur even longer after administered than just a couple of days. I'd love to read more on the new AAHA protocols adopted by all Veterinarian Colleges. It seems that some practices are slow to implement these changes.

Posted by Isla Morris
on April 04 2012 10:24

My Amber, our Golden Retriever who recently passed away at the age of 12 years, had what I am sure was a vaccine related seizure when she was about 4 months old. The day after a round of multiple vaccines, the doorbell rang and she began barking. Pretty soon I noticed that she was seizing. From that point on I always made sure her vaccines were given about a week apart. Never had a seizure again!

Posted by Catherine O'Neill
on April 04 2012 09:26

I think it is wonderful that you are addressing this issue. My husband and I had a 9-year old short hair cat that got very sick after receiving a rabies vaccine. It took a few trips to the vet to figure out what was going on, but we learned that she had IMHA, which can be triggered by the administration of the vaccine. After she was diagnosed and consulting with the vet, we did not give her any additional vaccines (she was an indoor cat). We were able to extend her life for 2 more years with various medications and numerous trips to the vet, but it definitely took a toll on her health. We now have two other cats that we continue to get vaccinated. However, we have them get their vaccines annually as opposed to the 3-year shot after learning that there are less complications associated with the annual vaccine. We also take into the consideration of the risk of the vaccine vs. the risk of contracting the disease.

Posted by Joy E. Goldberg
on April 03 2012 19:32

We have two cats, named Suzy and Georgie. Three years ago, when Suzy was going on twelve and Georgie was going on eight, after they received their yearly vaccines, they were lethargic for several days, and then were all right. Even so, it was unusually long for both of them. The past two years, our wonderful veterinarian has given them separate vaccines: for example, distemper one week, rabies the following week. They have been fine ever since! Wanted to imput this: consider it a valuable means of making the shots easier on their bodies, especially when they get older. Thank you!

Posted by Sarah Subillaga
on April 03 2012 19:14

There's a lot of mixed information about the safety and efficacy of vaccines for our pets, so I was glad to see Petplan offer such concise information. Our vet always administers vaccines in separate legs in case of reaction so they can figure out what triggered it- our old vet just put all of them under the scruff. For localized reactions, it's a relief to have that peace of mind.

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