Everything You Need to Know About Rabies Vaccines for Dogs

Rabies is a fatal viral disease that can infect all mammals—including dogs, cats, and people—and is certainly something you want to risk or mess around with. It’s transmitted to other animals via a bite or scratch, and kills tens of thousands of people every year worldwide. 

While canine rabies has been mostly eradicated in the United States, an infected animal can still infect other dogs, cats, cattle, horses, people, and domestic animals. Making sure you get a rabies vaccine for dogs in your home is the best way to protect everyone—including your furry friends. Doing so also helps prevent the re-emergence of rabies

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a lethal condition that is caused by the Lyssavirus. It can infect all mammals, including humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent, about 5,000 cases of rabies in animals are reported every year. 

In the United States, five types of rabies are found in fox, raccoon, skunk, canine (coyote and dog), and bat populations. All five types are contagious to dogs and are almost always lethal once symptoms begin. Rabies is spread by bites from rabid animals through saliva or through the mucous membranes, and affects the nervous system, specifically. 

The incubation period of rabies—which is how long it takes to show symptoms—is highly variable and depends on several factors. These include the age of the animal bitten, how far the bite is from the nervous system, and the dose of virus introduced to the body. 

In most domestic species, the incubation period is generally between 3 to 8 weeks, but can be as short as nine days or as long as a year or more. The virus attacks and replicates in the nervous system, causing the clinical signs of rabies. 

There are two forms of rabies: the excitatory form (sometimes call the “furious” stage) and the paralytic form (also referred to as the “dumb stage.”) Not all animals experience both stages, and symptoms can vary.

Symptoms may include:

  • Vicious, erratic behavior (the classic form)
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Heightened sensitivity to visual and auditory stimuli
  • Weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Death from respiratory failure

Once symptoms appear, rabies generally results in death in 3 to 8 days. There is no treatment for rabies. The good news is this disease can be easily prevented via a rabies vaccine for dogs. 

Does My Dog Need the Rabies Vaccine?

Absolutely! Part of responsible pet ownership is following local rules and regulations and doing what is best for the health of your pet. Making sure your dog is properly vaccinated for rabies is part of that process.

To that end, the rabies vaccine for dogs is the only vaccine required by law in most (but not all) states. If you are not sure if your city, state, or county requires a rabies shot for dogs, contact your local veterinarian for recommendations.

Dog Rabies Vaccine Schedule

While state and local requirements vary, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) says that standard recommendations include administration of a single dose of killed rabies vaccine via injection under the skin or into the muscle to dogs no younger than 3 months of age.

Generally, puppies receive their first rabies vaccine between 12 to 16 weeks of age, which stimulates the immune system to make antibodies. A second single dose of rabies vaccine is administered one year later regardless of the age of the dog, and then every three years thereafter.

Dose #1

12 to 16 weeks

Dose #2 (Booster)

1 year after first dose

Subsequent Boosters

Every 3 years

This canine vaccination schedule helps bolster your pup’s immunity against rabies in case they ever do end up exposed to this nasty virus. If a dog vaccinated with only one dose is ever exposed to rabies, the exposure to the virus serves as the second dose. 

How Much Does a Dog Rabies Vaccine Cost?

Fortunately, a rabies shot for dogs is easy to obtain, not too costly, and is deemed safe for your dog. Because rabies is a public health concern, the vaccine will be administered by a veterinarian after she or he has done a physical exam on your dog. 

The cost of a veterinary exam usually runs from about $40 to $75, depending on the type of practice and your geographical area. The cost of a rabies vaccine for dogs typically ranges between $15 to $40 depending on your vet and where you live.

For cost-conscious pet parents who still want to protect their dog against infectious diseases, the price of vaccines can be reduced in several ways. There are many options available to get a low-cost rabies vaccine for dogs, including:

  • Low-cost vaccine clinic at a pet store or feed store
  • Low-cost vaccine clinic at a shelter
  • Mobile/pop-up vaccine clinics

To find one of these clinics, Google “low-cost vaccine clinics” for your area or ask at your local pet store.

You can also ask your veterinary office if they run rabies vaccine specials, like on September 28, World Rabies Day. Other options include puppy packages that bundle and discount all puppy services (vaccines, de-worming, fecal exam, puppy exams, spay/neuter, microchip, etc.), or insurance/wellness plans that include vaccines.

Rabies Vaccine For Dogs Side Effects

The rabies vaccine for dogs has been around a long time and has a very low rate of severe adverse reactions. Though rare, some dogs may temporarily lose their hair at the vaccine site. Additional rabies vaccine for dogs side effects can include:

Mild Reactions

  • Soreness at the site of injection
  • Temporary fever
  • Swelling where the injection was given
  • Temporary tiredness and/or loss of appetite

Rare Reactions

  • Hives, which look like firm bumps all over the body. May be itchy.
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Swollen face, eyes, or muzzle
  • Coughing
  • Development of a tumor at the injection site (more of an issue in cats)
  • Collapse or fainting

If you notice anything abnormal with your dog after he or she is vaccinated for rabies, contact your veterinarian. Even if you’re just concerned, it never hurts to call your vet and relay any symptoms they’re experiencing. For dogs that have severe reactions to vaccines, talk to your veterinarian about running antibody titers as an alternative.

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Rabies Vaccine for Dogs FAQs

— Update: 08-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article 65 Ways Rabies Vaccination Can Harm Your Dog from the website www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com for the keyword dog rabies vaccine side effects.

There are countless ways rabies vaccination can harm your dog – often permanently. I’m going to tell  you about just 65 of those ways below.

As a holistic veterinarian, our outdated rabies vaccination laws are one of the things that upset me the most. All over the US and in most of Canada, the law requires you to vaccinate your dog against rabies every three years. In most US states your dog’s first rabies vaccine must be a one year shot, with revaccination every three years after that.

None of these laws take into account the real duration of immunity of rabies vaccines, Studies by Ronald Schultz PhD show that rabies vaccines protects for a minimum of 7 years – and probably for the life of the animal.

And neither do the thousands of veterinarians in the US who are still vaccinating annually for rabies. They do this despite the fact that annual vaccination is neither required by law nor recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Guidelines.

Every Vaccination Increases The Risk

Dog owners often accept the one-year rabies vaccine because it’s cheaper, and because they don’t know two important things:

  • The one year rabies vaccine is identical to the three year rabies vaccine, just labeled differently.
  • The rabies vaccine can harm your dog in many different ways. Every vaccination increases the risk of an adverse vaccine reaction happening to your dog.

And that’s what I want to tell you about.

In my years of practice I’ve witnessed all of the rabies vaccine reactions I’ve listed below.

Damage Can Be Immediate Or Months Later

Most conventional vets don’t recognize rabies vaccine damage unless your dog has an instant reaction while he’s still in the clinic.

But the fact is, one little vaccine can cause not only immediate illness, but long term, dangerous, chronic disease that can change your dog’s life forever.

Vaccine reactions are more likely to happen when your dog gets multiple vaccines at once; and small dogs are more likely to suffer from ill effects, because they receive the same dose as big dogs.

Rabies Vaccination Is Not Safe

I’ve listed 65 ways the rabies vaccine can harm your dog. It’s not an exhaustive list … but I’ve tried to give you a picture of the risks you take when you vaccinate your dog for rabies.

Most conventional vets will tell you that rabies vaccination is very safe and unlikely to cause any side effects. Holistic vets, myself included, will tell you a very different story. We’ve learned to recognize the shocking damage that rabies vaccination causes in so many pets.

I’ve divided common rabies vaccine reactions into three different categories.

Acute Problems

Acute reactions can happen immediately after the rabies vaccine or within a few days. Conventional vets are more likely to recognize acute (vs chronic) reactions as being linked to the rabies vaccine.

These acute reactions aren’t necessarily limited to the rabies vaccine but can happen with any shots.

  • Vomiting
  • Facial swelling
  • Injection site swelling or lump
  • Lethargy
  • Urticaria (hives)
  • Circulatory shock
  • Injection site pain
  • Pruritus (itching)
  • Injection site alopecia (hair loss)
  • Death
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Diarrhea
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Fever
  • Anaphylaxis (which can kill your dog in minutes)
  • Ataxia (loss of balance/coordination)
  • Lameness
  • General signs of pain
  • Hyperactivity
  • Injection site scab or crust
  • Muscle tremor
  • Seizures (these can be immediate upon vaccination but can also occur in 7 to 9 days which is when the rabies antibodies develop)
  • Tumor at the injection site (this can happen within as little as 72 hours)
  • Sudden behavior changes such as aggression, fear or anxiety can also happen acutely, within hours or days of rabies vaccination
  • Immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA). This disease can also become chronic

Chronic Problems

Many chronic diseases in dogs can be triggered by the rabies vaccine’s damaging effect on your dog’s immune system and neurological system. The rabies virus itself is a carcinogen. The toxic ingredients in vaccines such as aluminum and mercury can also contribute to cancer and other chronic disease. Many of the chronic diseases I’ve listed here can be caused by any vaccine, not just rabies.

Dog rabies vaccine side effects
Dog rabies vaccine side effects
  • Fibrocarcinomas at the injection site. A lot of people know about this problem in cats (that’s why vets often vaccinate cats in the tail, so it can easily be amputated) but it’s just as common in dogs. Fibrocarcinomas can appear in places other than the injection site because the aluminum in the vaccine is carried away by macrophages (immune system cells that detect, eat and destroy damaged cells and other foreign substances).
  • Other cancers, such as spindle cell cancers, mast cell cancers, hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma, lymphoma. Even benign tumors like lipomas, warts and other growths can grow larger or become malignant after rabies vaccination, especially if your dog is taking steroid drugs.
  • Chronic digestive issues such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, colitis or chronic diarrhea. Inflammation anywhere in the body, including in the digestive tract, is aggravated by the rabies vaccine.
  • Seizures, epilepsy and granulomatuous meningioencephalitis (GME).
  • Food, environmental and inhalant allergies. These are extremely common chronic problems in dogs. Allergies are improper immune responses and vaccination can damage your dog’s immune system. The aluminum in vaccines also causes an up-regulation of IgE, which is the allergy immunoglobulin.
  • Skin issues. There are many different types of skin issues, including dermatitis, yeast, alopecia (hair loss), hives, rashes, itchy wrists and ankles (where a lot of dogs chew themselves), abscesses, ear and eye infections and anal gland problems. Skin conditions are never “just skin issues” but are a manifestation of deeper underlying disease. Vaccination can cause allergic reactions because cells in the body called Langerhan cells are constantly scouting for antigen (which the rabies virus is full of). When Langerhan cells detect these foreign invaders (like bacteria or viruses), the body then sends out inflammatory cells to fight off the attacker by creating an allergic reaction.
  • Muscle weakness or atrophy, including wasting diseases like degenerative myelopathy and Guillain Barré The rabies vaccine causes a neuro-inflammatory reaction, resulting in degeneration of the tissues.
  • Demyelination (common in German Shepherds) – an autoimmune disease.
  • Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, autoimmune thyroiditis.
  • Metabolic diseases like diabetes, Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease or pancreatitis.
Dog rabies vaccine side effects

Chronic Rabies-Specific Problems

Often, rabies vaccination can cause the body to mimic the disease it was intended to prevent. Homeopaths call this rabies miasm. Rabies miasm is deep-rooted disease often caused by rabies vaccination but it can also be passed down through generations and cause illness even in unvaccinated dogs.

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Rabies miasm symptoms are very common in dogs. But most veterinarians and dog owners don’t recognize the connection between rabies vaccination and some of these symptoms. You may think it’s cute or funny when your dog chases flies around the house or chases water from the hose. But it’s not really … it’s a common symptom of rabies vaccine damage.

Many of these problems are behavioral because the rabies virus travels to the amygdala of the brain, and so does the virus in the vaccines, causing neurological damage.

  • Hypersensitivity of all senses – sensitivity to sound, movement, touch
  • Rage, agitation, violence, ferocity, sudden attacks, unprovoked attacks, desire to kill … behaviors you might expect to see in a dog infected with rabies
  • Irrational fears, timidity, separation anxiety, suspicious behavior
  • Inappropriate responses to water – either extreme fear or great desire. This is known as hydrophobia, which is another term for rabies
  • Obsessive/compulsive behaviors – tail chasing, fly biting, chasing balls, chasing light reflected off a window or mirror
  • Excessive focal licking or licking of genitalia
  • Excessive sexual drive. Some people interpret chronic humping as being a dominance behavior, but it’s more likely a rabies vaccination response
  • Constant or unwarranted erections, even in neutered males
  • Frequent or spasmodic sneezing, spasms in the jaws, choking, gagging, or coughing when swallowing liquids, reverse sneezing and laryngeal spasms
  • Involuntary urination
  • Sensation of flea bites, violent itching with no obvious causation
  • Convulsions, especially from the sight of running water or shiny objects
  • Aimless wandering and vocalization
  • Restlessness, uneasiness, apprehensiveness and developing aggressive behavior, especially toward strangers
  • Your normally affectionate dog may hide away and shun company
  • Your normally independent dog may become unusually attentive and affectionate
  • Desire to roam and travel away from home for long distances
  • Resistance to being restrained, chewing viciously on leashes, metal chains or anything that confines him (even breaking through glass windows or bending the bars of a crate or kennel)
  • Self biting … inflicting severe bite wounds on himself
  • Strange cries and hoarse howls (due to partial paralysis of the vocal cords)
  • No interest in food or ravenous hunger
  • Unable to swallow because of paralysis of swallowing muscles
  • Eyes staring with dilated pupils
  • Unable to close the eyes; cornea becomes dry and dull
  • Hanging down of the lower jaw
  • Pica – eating inappropriate objects such as wood, stones or his own feces
  • Destruction of blankets, towels, clothing
  • Convulsive seizures, tied to lunar patterns
  • Muscular incoordination
  • Inflammation of the heart muscle: disturbed heart function, irregular rhythm, heart rate too slow or too fast, heart failure

Again, this is not a complete list. But you can see from my experience and observations that rabies vaccination is not safe for your dog and you should minimize the number of shots your dog gets.

Dog rabies vaccine side effects

What You Can Do

  • Don’t give your dogs more rabies shots than he needs to comply with the law. Under current laws, that means every three years.
  • Research your local laws on rabies vaccination. There are very few places that’ll accept rabies titers instead of vaccination. Let’s advocate for all states and provinces to accept titers in lieu of repetitive vaccinations.
  • If you want to get a rabies titer, I encourage you to submit the blood through Hemopet, because they take the extra step of collecting the data before sending the titers out to rabies certified laboratories such as those at Kansas State University and Cornell University.
  • Some states allow medical exemptions for health reasons (no unhealthy dog should EVER be vaccinated). Find out about your state medical exemptions and ask your vet to write you an exemption.
  • Give your dog soil-based probiotics with ingredients that can help protect the gut from damage by helping to remove heavy metals and other contaminants in vaccines.

Final Thoughts

When I became a veterinarian I took a Veterinarian’s Oath to “use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering […] and the advancement of medical knowledge.”

I find the outdated rabies laws to be a breach of the Oath I took and not in keeping with protection of animal health or promotion of public health. I personally see these outdated, unscientific rabies laws as a clear defiance of scientific knowledge and skills. They endanger society by causing derangement of the immune systems of the animals we share our lives with.

Photo credit: Patricia Jordan DVM

— Update: 10-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Side Effects of Rabies Vaccine in Dogs from the website canna-pet.com for the keyword dog rabies vaccine side effects.

Since the rabies vaccine was invented in 1885, pet deaths caused by the disease have dropped substantially. Before widespread vaccinations, more than 100 pets died annually from rabies. The rabies vaccine is legally required for all dogs in the United States, but some areas have different regulations concerning the frequency of vaccinations. Currently, between one and two dogs in the U.S. die each year from rabies. Vaccinating dogs is also very effective in preventing the spread of the disease to humans.

Although the rabies vaccine prevents pet deaths every single year, it’s still important to know that it also comes with some unwanted side effects in some cases. Are you thinking of getting your dog vaccinated for rabies but concerned about the side effects? Learn more about the side effects of the rabies vaccine for dogs here.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a fatal neurological disease found in animals. The single-stranded virus is of the genus Lyssavirus in the family Rhabdoviridae. It is a preventable, viral condition that typically affects dogs who are bitten by another infected animal. Its devastating effects led to the invention of the rabies vaccine for dogs. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), 90% of reported rabies cases occur in wild animals including raccoons, foxes, bats, and skunks.

What are the Symptoms of Rabies in Dogs?

Rabies is a polioencephalitis (viral infection of the brain) that affects the gray matter of a dog’s brain as well as their central nervous system. The infection leads to brain disease and eventually, death. Early symptoms of rabies include fever, weakness, general discomfort, and other flu-like symptoms.

As rabies progresses through an animal’s body, symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Partial paralysis
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Increase in saliva
  • Hypertension
  • Hydrophobia (fear of water)
  • Cerebral dysfunction
  • Delirium

Once these signs of rabies appear in an animal, the condition will almost always be fatal. Treatment for a rabid dog is generally only supportive. Death will typically occur within a few days of the more severe symptoms.

How is Rabies Transmitted?

Dog rabies vaccine side effectsThe primary way for a dog to become infected with rabies is through the bite of a rabid animal in which the virus spreads through saliva or blood. Rabies transmission can come from an infected dog but is more commonly from a wild animal. When a dog is bitten, viral saliva or blood particles infect their bloodstream. When the rabies virus enters an animal’s body, it begins to replicate through muscle cells and will spread to fibers of the central nervous system. If a dog is bitten by a rabid animal, it may take a full month for symptoms to show up. Once an animal is showing signs of rabies, the disease will rapidly progress. Although modern-day cases are very rare, the rabies virus also has the potential to be transmitted to humans.

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Rabies Vaccine for Dogs Side Effects

Any pet vaccination has the potential for side effects or adverse reactions. Preventing rabies involves administering a passive antibody by injecting human immune globulin as well as a round of shots of the rabies vaccine. Injections are usually given through a dog’s skin or muscle. After immunization, mild side effects are common and will typically begin just a few hours after the shot.

Common side effects of the rabies vaccine in dogs include:

  • Swelling or firmness of the skin at the vaccination site
  • Mild allergic reaction
  • Low-grade fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose

In most instances, if your dog has a mild reaction to the rabies vaccine, it is nothing to worry about. If reactions are more severe than the mild symptoms listed above, bring your pet back to the vet for an examination.

If your dog had a reaction to the rabies vaccine, your veterinarian will be able to advise you on the best course of action for future immunizations. If your pet had a previous adverse reaction to the rabies vaccine, you might be able to get your vet to authorize an alternative treatment.


In rare cases, the rabies vaccine can lead to a potentially life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. The condition can cause respiratory and cardiac failure in dogs and will usually surface within minutes of getting a rabies shot. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include elevated heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea, pale gums, seizures, hives, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the face. If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog following a rabies vaccination, bring your pet back to the vet right away. Epinephrine will be administered immediately for anaphylaxis.

Delayed Side Effects of the Rabies Vaccine in Dogs

Some delayed medical and behavioral reactions to the rabies vaccine may occur, although they are rare. Delayed side effects of the rabies vaccine may start a week or more following the shot and can last much longer.

Delayed side effects of the rabies vaccine may include:

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Various skin conditions
  • Heart problems
  • Chronic loss of appetite
  • Vision problems
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Lipomas (fatty tumors)
  • Periodontitis (gum disease)
  • Hair loss
  • Ongoing seizures
  • Thyroid issues
  • Aggression
  • Separation anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Destructive behavior

It’s important to note that these delayed side effects are not scientifically proven to be a direct result of the rabies vaccine. Other variables are at play for many of these conditions.

Is My Dog at Risk for Contracting Rabies?

If an unvaccinated dog is bitten or scratched by a wild mammal that has not been tested for rabies, the canine is at risk of being exposed to the virus. Unimmunized pets infected with rabies are generally euthanized almost immediately.

Smaller animals such as mice, squirrels, and rabbits are not known to pass rabies to dogs. If any of these small animals bit your pet, they are most likely not at risk for contracting rabies. However, if rabies is widespread in your area or your pet is exhibiting strange behaviors, the virus is a possibility.

Rabies is diagnosed in dogs using the DFA (direct fluorescent antibody) laboratory test. The test checks the presence of the virus in brain tissue. Within a few hours of testing, the lab work will be able to determine if a dog is rabid.

How Do I Know if Rabies is in My Area?

Dog rabies vaccine side effectsThe CDC reports rabies surveillance information for the United States each year. The report lists the number of rabies cases and which animals as well as maps showing where instances of the virus are reported. In addition, each state collects data about rabies. Your state’s health authority site is a good resource for up-to-date information about the virus in your area.

If your dog previously received the rabies vaccine and is bitten by an infected animal, your vet will likely request proof of the immunization. In the event that someone comes into contact with your dog’s saliva or is bitten by your pet, they should see a doctor immediately for treatment. Upon confirmed diagnosis of rabies, cases should be reported to a local health department. State regulations require that unvaccinated pets that are exposed to a rabid animal are quarantined for up to six months. Vaccinated animals that are exposed will usually be monitored and quarantined for ten days.

How to Prepare for the Rabies Vaccine

Although you will not be able to predict any reactions or side effects your dog will have with the rabies vaccine, you can still be prepared in case of any dire outcomes.

It’s important to notify your vet as soon as you notice any adverse reactions your dog has to the rabies vaccine. Your veterinarian clinic may want to supervise your pet for a little while to make sure the symptoms subside. For a few weeks after vaccinating your dog, keep the immunization records on hand. If your pup has a bad reaction, providing the information to your vet will allow them to quickly respond.

It’s crucial that the rabies vaccine is not administered in conjunction with any other immunization. Increased side effects of the rabies vaccine have been reported with multiple vaccinations within a short period. Wait a few weeks after a rabies shot before giving your dog another vaccine.

The rabies vaccine has been groundbreaking in reducing the number of cases of animals infected with the fatal disease. There are a variety of rabies vaccines available that are both safe and effective. Keeping your dog up-to-date with the rabies vaccine is vital to preventing the illness. After a full course of rabies shots, immunity to the disease will last for a long time. Although the vaccination is legally required, staying aware of potential side effects will be in your pet’s best interest throughout the process.


  1. Wolff, Caryl. “How to Tell If Your Dog Is Reacting to the Rabies Vaccine.” The Spruce Pets, Accessed 22 June 2018. www.thesprucepets.com/rabies-vaccine-reaction-2804969.
  2. “Canine Rabies Vaccine Side Effects.” VetInfo, Accessed 22 June 2018. www.vetinfo.com/canine-rabies-vaccine-side-effects.html.
  3. Morello, Robert. “Dog Rabies Vaccination Side Effects.” Cuteness, 9 Feb. 2017, Accessed 22 June 2018. www.cuteness.com/article/dog-rabies-vaccination-side-effects.
  4. Tudor, Ken. “Vaccination Opt Out Letters.” PetMD, 30 May 2013, Accessed 22 June 2018. www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/ktudor/2013/may/opting-out-of-rabies-vaccinations-30340.
  5. “Rabies in Dogs.” WebMD, Accessed 22 June 2018. www.pets.webmd.com/dogs/rabies-dogs#1.


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