Can Dog Vaccines Have Side Effects?

Dr. Joe Alcorn, M.S., D.V.M.

Dr. Joe Alcorn is founder of Care Animal Hospital in Temecula, California. He has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and his advice has been featured in large publications like Bustle and Martha Steward.

Home » Blog » Can Dog Vaccines Have Side Effects?

As a dog owner, you want to ensure your canine is healthy. Vaccines can help prevent various illnesses, yet you may be concerned about side effects. Here, I will answer the question, “Can dog vaccines have side effects?” and provide you with the knowledge to protect your furry friend.

Can Dog Vaccines Have Side Effects?

Yes, there is a resounding yes to this question. However, the majority of the adverse effects are minor and affect only a small proportion of animals. It is also worth noting that the risk to your dog’s life from any adverse effects is significantly lower than the chance of catching the disease against which the vaccination protects.

Brown pomeranian being held by its owner while she talks to a veterinarian

What Are Dog Vaccines?

Before we dive into the potential side effects of vaccines for dogs, it is essential to understand what they are and how they work. Vaccines contain small amounts of weakened or inactivated viruses or bacteria that train your dog’s immune system to recognize and fight off these pathogens. 

Vaccines work by mimicking the natural infection process in a controlled and safe manner. When your dog receives a vaccine, its immune system recognizes the foreign substance and mounts a response to eliminate it. This response includes the production of antibodies that can recognize and neutralize the pathogen if the canine is ever exposed to it in the future.

Vaccines are critical in the fight against infectious diseases, not only for your dog’s health yet for the health of the entire population of dogs. Vaccination programs have significantly reduced the incidence of many infectious diseases, making them much less common than they were in the past.

What Are the Most Common Vaccinations for Dogs?

Vaccines are a crucial aspect of canine preventative care, helping to protect them from a variety of potentially dangerous and even fatal infections. For your dog, I recommend the following vaccinations:

  • Rabies vaccine: It guards against the rabies virus, a dangerous illness that may be transferred to people.
  • Distemper vaccine: It protects against the canine distemper virus, which can cause respiratory and neurological symptoms.
  • Parvovirus vaccine: It protects against parvovirus, which is a potentially deadly and highly contagious virus that can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Adenovirus vaccine: It fights against two strains of adenovirus, which can cause respiratory and liver disease in dogs.
  • Parainfluenza vaccine: It protects against the parainfluenza virus, which is a common cause of kennel cough.
  • Bordetella vaccine: It protects against Bordetella bronchiseptica, which is another common cause of kennel cough.
Brown dog being held by its neck by a volunteer while a veterinarian prepares a syringe for his vaccination

These vaccines are typically given as a series of injections when a dog is a puppy, and then boosters are recommended at regular intervals throughout the dog’s life to maintain immunity. 

The specific vaccination schedule can vary depending on the dog’s age, health status, and lifestyle, so you need to come to my clinic to determine how often they should receive a vaccine and to find out the best vaccine schedule for your dog.

What Are the Potential Side Effects of Dog Vaccines?

Mild side effects of vaccines for dogs include frequent urination, fever, lethargy, and soreness at the injection site. These symptoms usually resolve on their own within a few days and do not require any treatment. However, if your dog seems to be in pain or discomfort, please contact me to give you the necessary indications.

More severe side effects of vaccines for dogs are rare, yet they can occur. These include allergic reactions, such as hives, facial swelling, and difficulty breathing, which can be life-threatening. Other potential side effects include vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures.

In most cases, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the potential risks. However, if your dog has a history of adverse reactions to vaccines or is immunocompromised, I recommend a more cautious vaccination schedule or alternative protocols.

What Are the Ways to Minimize the Risk of Side Effects?

Make sure your dog is healthy before getting vaccinated. If your dog is sick or has a weakened immune system, vaccination may not be safe. I can advise you on when it is safe to vaccinate your dog. 

Vaccines are most effective when administered at the appropriate time and in the correct order. I can help you develop a vaccination schedule that has tailored to your dog’s individual needs. 

Watch your dog closely after vaccination. If your dog experiences any side effects, contact me immediately. Early intervention can help prevent more severe reactions and ensure your dog receives the appropriate treatment.

Brown pomeranian sitting on a diagnostic table while a veterinarian and his assistant observes him

Related Questions

What Should I Do if My Dog Has a Reaction to a Vaccine?

If your dog shows vaccine reaction symptoms like discomfort, fever, decreased appetite, lethargy, or severe signs like persistent vomiting, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, or collapse, contact me immediately. Monitor your dog closely and seek emergency care if symptoms worsen.

In some cases, I can recommend treatments like anti-inflammatories, or hospitalization in severe cases. Then, I will discuss future vaccinations with you, considering options like pre-treatment with antihistamines, different vaccines, or discontinuing certain vaccinations.

What Health Issues Make My Dog Susceptible to Vaccine-Related Side Effects?

Underlying health conditions that can make a dog more susceptible to vaccine-related side effects may compromise its immune system or increase the risk of an adverse reaction. 

Examples include immune system disorders, chronic illnesses, allergies, age, and medications. It is crucial to discuss your dog’s medical history before vaccinating to determine the appropriate vaccination schedule and identify any potential risks.

Should I Continue to Vaccinate My Dog if It Has Had a Reaction?

If your dog has reacted to a vaccine, it is important to discuss their vaccination history. Depending on the severity of the reaction, I can recommend a modified vaccination schedule or avoid certain vaccines in the future. 

However, it is important to note that the benefits of vaccination generally outweigh the risks, and most dogs can safely continue to receive vaccines after a reaction.


Vaccines protect your dog from life-threatening diseases and help prevent their spread. By understanding the potential side effects of vaccines for dogs and taking steps to minimize the risk, you can help keep your furry friend healthy and happy for years to come.