It’s been a few hours now since you came back from the vet with your dog. Another set of boosters done for another year- problem solved, right?
Not so fast.
At first, you weren’t sure if your eyes were playing tricks on you, but as the hours pass by it becomes undeniably clear: Your dog has begun walking with a very noticeable limp.
The obvious discomfort that your pooch seems to be in gets you worried and wondering, “Why is my dog having trouble walking after shots?”
Though it may be hard to logically connect the two situations, it is actually quite possible that the injection or vaccine itself is causing your dog’s current movement difficulties.
This could be due to regular allergic or vaccine reactions your dog may be experiencing as the antigen makes its way through the body. Usually, other common symptoms are also displayed, such as a mild fever, lack of appetite, and sleepiness.
Other than reactions to the actual vaccine, it could simply be the injection site itself that is making it painful for your dog to walk! Frequently, some swelling or inflammation will be present in the area both due to the vaccine affecting the skin cells, as well as physical trauma.
Finally, some vaccines may also have the specific ability to cause rear-leg paralysis, which of course will lead to trouble walking.
For example, the rabies shot has been noted both in history and in modern times to create cases of posterior paralysis in dogs. This has been suspected to be due to the demyelination of nerves in the canine’s central nervous system.
In most cases, adverse reactions to vaccinations will resolve by themselves within 2 or 3 days– limping included. If they don’t, or if your dog’s condition worsens in any way, it would be prudent to take it to the vet as soon as possible for a thorough examination.
Protocols exist in the US that require vets to give dogs certain vaccinations only in specific areas of the body.
This serves the purpose of making it easier to identify the vaccine that is causing an adverse effect if one indeed arises. For example, according to The University of Tennessee, rabies shots are supposed to be administered under the skin on the rear right leg.
Though much of the testimony around the internet is anecdotal, there is evidence that some vaccines- most notably the one for rabies- have the ability to cause significant side effects such as prolonged limping, difficulty walking, and even hind-end paralysis.
If you have noticed your dog limping after a recent rabies or leptospirosis shot, it may be worth consulting with your vet and diving deeper into this topic.
Cases of paralysis following rabies vaccination has been documented as far back as 1949 by Iowa State University. In that instance, a young, female cocker spaniel (small-medium sized breed) developed posterior paralysis 2 weeks after being injected with the vaccine.
The right rear leg still retained a tiny bit of movement, while the left was completely paralyzed. Vets at the Stange Memorial Clinic also noticed that the dog displayed hyperesthesia, or a heightened sensitivity of senses, as well as being lethargic.
A diagnosis of “post-vaccinal paralysis” was made, in relation to the earlier rabies vaccination.
Symptoms worsened for the ensuing five days, with paralysis spreading further up the body all the way up to the neck and head. Treatment in the form of thiamine administration, urine expression, and enema procedures were given in order to support life.
Almost miraculously, the dog began to show visible improvement on Day 7 since being brought into the hospital. Movement returned slowly to the neck and upper body.
On the eleventh day the patient was able to stand by itself for a short amount of time, and on the twelfth it was released into the exercise pen where it was able to move all four limbs- albeit weakly and in an uncoordinated manner.
Fast forward approximately another 2 weeks, and the dog was able to move freely again with nothing to remember the ordeal by except a slight weakness in its lower extremities. Truly a peculiar case indeed, at the time!
Pop the keywords “rabies vaccine” and “dog limping” into a Google search box and you’re bound to uncover a whole host of information crying for an end to rabies vaccination.
While some of the information may have basis in truth, all too frequently impassioned authors ride a precarious line between providing the facts and spouting conspiratorial theories. As with all research- be extensive, keep a level head, and make your own judgments.
With that said, some sites recognize the overall benefit of vaccinations while warning against over-vaccinating. This is a safer approach and makes what they’re saying a little more credible.
One such site presents research findings particularly related to rabies vaccination and rear-end paralysis. While it recognizes that correlation does not always equal causation, it also points to some figures which are hard to discount completely.
A (mysteriously-disappeared) Canine Health Census conducted in the UK apparently showed that 69% of dogs with rear-end paralysis had a rabies vaccination within the last three months.
If true- and again this seems dubious due to the lack of official record (since when does information just disappear completely off the face of the internet?!) – this may be convincing evidence against over-vaccinating dogs with the rabies antigen.
There have also been theories that the rabies vaccine can cause demyelination or destruction of the walls of the nerves at a rate of 1 in every 300 humans.
Given that canines commonly have one rabies shot a year, the probability of their experiencing negative side effects seemingly also rises.
Again, much of this information is provided without clear, reputable sources, and my only intent is to bring them to your attention so that you can have a clear picture of all the possibilities.
It is definitely recommended that you discuss further with your vet if your dog is significantly affected.
Why Is My Dog Lethargic After Shots?
Vaccines are instrumental in protecting our dogs from potentially life-threatening diseases, but it is important to remember that they are not without their own share of (mostly minor) side effects.
While most of the time dogs will experience no adverse side effects at all after shots, it is also quite common for them to be mildly affected as their immune system fights off the antigen in the vaccine.
Some of the most prevalent side effects that are experienced are lethargy, sleepiness, and an unwillingness to move.
Usually, there isn’t too much to be concerned about as these reactions are transient and last anywhere between a few hours to 2-3 days at most. Though it does happen from time to time, it is rare for these reactions to escalate into more serious events.
Other common vaccine reactions like a mild fever, lack of appetite, and pain and swelling at the injection site can make a dog ache and overall make it more reluctant to move around.
While these are pretty regular reactions, make sure that you do still keep a close eye on your dog for any signs that its condition is getting worse. If that occurs, or if these symptoms persist even after 3 days, it would be best to take your dog to the vet for an examination.
If your dog experiences systemic reactions such as persistent vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face and limbs, rashes, seizures or collapse– take your dog to the vet immediately as its health and life may be at risk.
Thankfully, any problems that your dog does experience and display are likely to be temporary and should resolve by themselves over the next few days.
Some dogs (especially smaller breeds) also have a tendency for the dramatic and exaggerate their discomfort for more attention. Since they probably just want to feel extra loved during this uncomfortable time, by all means provide them with as much affection as you can muster!
Most of the time, shivering or shaking after shots can be attributed to vaccine or allergic reactions as the antigen makes its way through the dog’s body. Shaking is especially common in smaller or younger animals, and it is normal for it to be accompanied by a slight fever.
If the shaking and shivering is due to an allergic reaction, the dog will usually display other classic allergy symptoms as well, such as swelling, hives, and difficulty breathing.
Sometimes, a dog may shake after shots simply because it is still feeling stressed, scared and anxious about the whole experience!
Most dogs should only experience shaking temporarily, and will be back to normal within 24 hours. While mild symptoms don’t require any treatment or action, it is still important to make a note of it in case it happens again in the future with more severity.
Just like humans, each dog reacts differently to particular shots or vaccinations. The first thing that you should always do if you notice your dog limping or sore after shots is to consult your vet for specific advice.
To help your dog feel better, the vet may prescribe pain-killers and anti-inflammatory medications such as Metacam or Rimadyl.
Some may also feel comfortable in advising owners to use household aspirin that you may have in the cabinet. However, significant care should be taken with aspirin dosage as an overdose either by amount or frequency can lead to internal complications.
Aspirin poisoning can occur very easily, and can lead to issues such as stomach ulcers, blood clotting difficulties, internal bleeding, and seizures.
Only give your dog coated aspirin, and it should also always be given with food to minimize the harsh chemical impact it can have on the stomach. The proper, safe dosage of aspirin for dogs is 5 to 10mg per pound of body weight, once every 8 hours.
Using a cold compress or ice on the injection site can also help to relieve some of the surface swelling and inflammation.
If you have noticed that your dog commonly has significant, negative reactions to vaccinations, there are a few things that you can do to minimize side effects in the future when it’s time for shots:
- While vaccines are undoubtedly valuable, they should be customized to the specific dog’s lifestyle to avoid over-vaccination. This means that it may not be necessary for your dog to receive every vaccine under the sun if they’re not essential.
For example, a dog that primarily stays inside most of the day may not need frequent flu or Lyme disease shots. You can also order an inexpensive ‘titer’ test to see if your dog still carries antibodies to particular viruses in its blood. If it does, your dog is still immune and no booster is needed.
- Only give it one vaccine at a time. It is a good idea to separate vaccines as this can help to reduce side effects. If your dog is due for more than one vaccine, give it one first and then wait another few weeks before the next- especially if the rabies shot is involved. Avoid combination vaccines if at all possible!
- Pre-vaccine medication can help to reduce the severity of side effects. Benadryl can be given at a dosage of 1mg per pound of body weight prior to the injection to reduce symptoms.
If your dog is having trouble walking after shots, understand that it is fairly common for canines to experience mild adverse reactions in the hours and days following vaccination.
Along with limping and lethargy, other symptoms can also include shaking, a loss of appetite, mild fever, soreness at the site of injection, and depression. Fortunately, most of the time these negative side effects will resolve on their own within a few days.
Though it hasn’t been fully substantiated by many credible sources (at least in modern times), it has been noted that some vaccines may cause issues of prolonged posterior paralysis in dogs in the days or weeks after injection.
In particular, the rabies shot has been under special scrutiny as an antigen that may cause atypical, serious mobility issues. Though care must be taken, it may be worth researching this topic further and consulting with your vet if you notice your dog displaying signs of paralysis.
Elena Gherman is a highly skilled and knowledgeable animal care expert. At the start of her career, she gained practical expertise with multiple animals. In addition to that, she works as a DVM veterinary editor for Joy Pet Products, which focuses on offering reliable information on pet health and wellbeing. She meticulously reviews each piece of writing before it is published to make sure pet owners get the most precise and updated information possible.