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Rabies Vaccinations – Caring for Critters

Caring-For-Critters2-400Due to computer issues (a crashing hard drive), I was unable to participate in the Caring For Critters Round Robin at my assigned time. My sincere apologies to Jodi from Heart Like a Dog for this.

I had planned to write about pancreatitis, but changed my mind at the last minute and decided to write about canine vaccinations.

Let me state up front, I am not one of those people who is going to tell you to avoid vaccinating your pet. While I may believe that we are over-vaccinating our pets, I am not someone who believes we should skip them altogether. The risks are too great to assume we know better than our veterinarians.

Instead, I want to share my own experience with vaccinations and what I do now to, hopefully, prevent the same thing from happening again.


Indy was the very first dog I had ever adopted. She came into my life at a time when I was really missing my childhood dog, Alicia. Adopting a new dog after losing one that had been a part of my life for 15 years was hard, but saying yes to adopting Indy was never in question. She picked me as much as I picked her.

IndyIndy was a Shepherd/Collie mix and the absolutely perfect dog one could ever have. She was well-trained, attentive, smart, a quick learner and very, very sweet. I loved her with my whole heart. Some of my favorite memories of her are of our walks together in the woods. I used to love hearing her rumble up behind me to catch up after she had stopped to sniff something alongside the trail. The sound of her thundering feet when she ran, the smile on her face when she knew we were heading out on the trail, and the swish of her tail in complete happiness; these were all things I loved about her. She was a very special dog.

Like most pet owners, I was diligent about getting Indy in for her vaccinations and yearly check ups. When she was 9 years old, I brought her in for her usual vet visit. Everything that visit was normal, completely normal, even the vaccination portion of the visit. Indy received all her vaccinations at once – rabies, canine parvovirus, distemper and bordatella, and appeared to be fine. But, as it turned out, all was not fine.

The next morning Indy had a major seizure and was rushed to the vet and then on to the emergency vet. She had to be given Valium to stop another seizure and to let her body rest. The vets suspected that Indy was having a reaction to the vaccinations she had been given the day before. The rabies vaccine seemed to be one of greatest concern.

Indy spent the night at the emergency vet so they could observe her in case she were to have another seizure. She was released the next day – groggy and disoriented.

At home, she recovered quickly and soon we were taking our walks in the woods again. All was well.

Until the next month.

Indy 2Indy had another seizure. We made another trip to the vet, but by then she seemed to have recovered. I was given a Valium pill to take home with me as a precaution. I was nervous and afraid and worried. The next month, Indy had yet another seizure, and then another one the month after that. As the months went one, Indy’s seizures increased in frequency. Now they were every 3 weeks, then every two and finally every week.

Each time she came out of it extremely disoriented and unable to really understand me. She would stumble around the house, despite our best efforts to keep her lying down. She would eventually collapse on the floor and sometimes drool. Often she would sleep the rest of the day, her body exhausted from the seizure. Sometimes she had accidents as her body was wracked by the seizure. It was so sad to see her this way.

When her seizures became more frequent (every other day), we made the difficult decision to say goodbye. It was probably one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make.  She was one of the best dogs a girl could ever want.

In every other way, Indy was a healthy 10-year-old dog, but her quality of life was not what it had been. She was not the happy dog she used to be. Each seizure seemed to take something from her, leaving a confused empty shell of a dog behind. We said good-bye with her lying in my arms.

What I learned

What I did not know then but I know now is that the rabies vaccine can cause serious side effects. It is also the one that can be the hardest on your dog’s system. The vaccine stimulates an animal’s immune system in order to create protection from specific infectious diseases. This can create mild symptoms, ranging from soreness at the injection site to fever and allergic reactions, to severe reactions like seizures, muscle weakness, autoimmune diseases, etc. Because of the virulence of the rabies vaccination, it is best to avoid giving it with the other vaccinations.

Don’t give any other vaccination in combination with the rabies shot. Veterinarians have reported that risk of reaction increases with the number of vaccinations given. Request that your veterinarian not give your dog a combination shot and wait a few weeks before giving another vaccination.


What I do now 

I can never know for sure that it was the rabies vaccine that caused Indy’s seizures, but in all likelihood it was the culprit. Although it is not a an experience I ever wanted, my experience with Indy did teach me a lesson I will carry with me the rest of my life  – my dogs will always receive the rabies vaccine separately from the rest of their vaccinations. It is not an option for me.

My vet is aware of my concerns and supports me fully. We usually schedule my dog’s rabies vaccinations so they are 3 weeks before or after their other core vaccinations. This may be a slightly more expensive route to go, but the peace of mind I get in return is worth it. Does this mean none of my dogs will ever experience what Indy went through? No. I know there is never a guarantee of that, but it does make me feel like I am doing everything I can to reduce the chances it will happen again. Titers are another route to go if you choose to do so. I have chosen not to do so. Yet.

Disclosure: Please keep in mind that while I have consulted professionals regarding Indy’s care, this post is not advice on how to heal your pet, but more of a cautionary tale that may be worth heeding.  As always, please consult your vet before making any health decisions for your pets.

This post is part of the Caring for Critters Round Robin hosted by Heart Like a Dog. You can find a huge list of helpful posts about a variety of pet illnesses and needs by clicking on the image above. Check out last yesterday’s post from Cascadian Nomads on the dangers of Salmon poisoning. 

  1. October 20, 2014 at 11:31 AM

    thanks for a very important post, I said yes! after every word :o) I avoid combination-shits and I always ask our vet that he can order the vaccine before we have our appointment.

    • October 20, 2014 at 11:32 AM

      sorry, I mean combination-SHOTS :o(

      • October 20, 2014 at 11:49 AM

        Oh Easy…..I avoid combination shits too. 😉

  2. fredrieka
    October 20, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    thank you I understand your disclaimer and I also understand the to be cautious. I was told by an oncologisy that the rabies vaccine and others by the time the dog is 5 have built up into their system there is a blood test that can be take (cannot remember the name) so you can get a waver for older dogs and rabies vaccine the rest is not legally required.. So sorry for this loss .. It is happening more often then you think.

  3. October 20, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    Thank you Mel, for sharing Indy’s story for the Round Robin. How heartbreaking that must have been for you.

    I’m very careful about which vaccines I give my dogs, every annual check up finds me asking my vet the same questions. After careful discussion and consideration we vaccinate for Rabies (every three years in CT) and Leptosporosis (yearly). But that can change based upon what is going on in the community.

    Because I personally believe we over-vaccinate in this country (not anti-vaccine, I just think the vaccines protect longer than is suspected) my dogs get their vaccines two weeks apart. Sampson is due next week. He will get Rabies (to make him legal) and two weeks or so later, he will go back for the leptos.

    I will also NEVER vaccinate if my dog isn’t feeling well. (One year Sampson had an allergic rash and while one of the vet’s in the practice assured me the vaccine would be okay, I passed.)

    Before the vaccine is given I have that conversation with my vet. The very last thing I ask her is, “If this were your dog, what would you do?”

    ALSO I (personally) would NEVER give a combo shot. I just thinks it’s too much on the immune system.

    I wish I’d known all of what I know now with my children. I would have made similar choices.

    Thanks again for sharing, I’m so sorry that you and Indy had to go through this.

    • October 20, 2014 at 8:00 PM

      Please forgive my rudeness, I should have also told you it was no worry about the delay. Computer issues happen. 🙂 I’m just glad you got a computer back and could contribute this awesome post!

  4. October 20, 2014 at 2:36 PM

    I think they are dangerous for any dog, but the older the dog, the higher the risks.

  5. October 20, 2014 at 4:04 PM

    Oh, Mel … well, you know where I land on this issue. Our new puppy goes Friday for her first-ever rabies vaccine. I’m nervous but trying to be brave.

  6. October 20, 2014 at 6:39 PM

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry for Indy’s illness and early goodbye. I will be sure to talk to my vet the next time we are due for shots. I do like that now my pups only need rabies every 3 years.

  7. October 20, 2014 at 10:33 PM

    I am so sorry that happened to Indy! The vet practice we go to has 3 different vets and they each have a different philosophy about vaccinations. I prefer to not get them all at once, but I think I’ve just agreed to whatever the vet said in the past. I’ll be more cautious from now on!

  8. October 21, 2014 at 7:15 AM

    I am sorry about what happened with Indy….she sounds like she was a wonderful dog! Our beagle Cricket has had several vaccine reactions. Nothing serious, thank goodness, but concerning. She is 10 years old now and I hope to stop all vaccines for her. There is so much evidence that repeated vaccines are unnecessary. However, the 3 year rabies is required in our state and she’s due for it on her next annual visit. I am hoping my vet is going to help us get out of it somehow. As for the other dogs, we now split up all vaccines. Jodi mentioned not vaccinating when they’re not well, and luckily our vet already won’t do that. Our vet thinks I am overly paranoid with the splitting up, but he respects our choices, and he does not charge for an office visit if we are just going in for a vaccine.

  9. Cascadian Nomads
    October 21, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    Thank you for sharing this Mel. I know how hard sharing these stories can be. My vets have always been sensitive about vaccinating as my pets get older. I am very lucky to live in an area with no vaccination requirements. Although I despise what vaccines do to immune a systems, canine, feline and human, I had never thought about the benefits of spacing out the vaccines. And my vet does not charge extra for vaccine only visits. I really appreciate this advice and will be refusing combo shots for all my pets from now on. Thank you again.

  10. sfratzke
    October 21, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    I certainly appreciate you sharing this information. My fawn pug Rufus went from being a normal 9 year old, happy and healthy pug to having issues with his back legs a few hours after his vaccines 3 years ago. It progressively got worse over the course of a few months and finally landed him at the U of M having spinal surgery. He will never be the same, although we love him just the same and try to make every accommodation for him. I didn’t realize at the time that it could have been related to the vaccines, but I believe it more and more each day and I am glad to know that I’m not crazy!

  11. Victoria Carter
    October 22, 2014 at 7:36 PM

    I’ve been thinking about doing titers recently for all eight of my critters, mainly due to one of my cats that has a horrific lethargic response to vaccinations, and one of the four vets I see regularly is also known to skip certain vaccinations due to age of the animal and likelihood of being immune.

    Titers would just be the solid proof to help with the peace of mind for skipping a vaccination or two.

    • Mel
      October 24, 2014 at 6:30 AM

      I’ve been thinking about doing titers too.

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