Vaccination Problems


Reaction to lepto in vaccine

Question: Dr Richards, I am the proud owner of two miniature schnauzers which are closely related. I brought one of them,Derby, who is 1 year old, for her second Rabies and Distemper shot, and she had a severe reaction to the lepto portion we believe. The first shot she had last year did not include lepto. Well, the shot that was administered this year did and the dog was very pale,lethargic and vomitted. She appears to be fine now thanks to her being at the vet after the shot was given. My question is given the one dog's reaction do you recommend not vaccinating against lepto again for this dog or my other dog. We live in North Carolina. Is it worth the risk?

Answer: Patty-

We do not use combination vaccinations containing leptospirosis at all in our practice. The leptospirosis portion of the vaccines seems to cause the most reactions and leptospirosis is not common in our area. This situation does vary from one area to another and it is possible that there is more of a problem with leptospirosis where you are. If your vet feels the risk of the disease is low then skipping this portion of the vaccination seems like a good course of action, to me. The recent outbreaks of leptospirosis in Long Island and other areas have been to types (serovars) of leptospirosis that are not included in the standard vaccinations. If there is a problem with lepto in your area it might be better to consider using the new vaccination for leptospirosis (I think it is from Ft. Dodge) that has several types of leptospirosis in it. Mike Richards, DVM 12/28/2000

Vaccination problems

Question: As a subscriber to your service, I'd like your opinion on yearly vaccines for an 11 year old Yorkshire Terrier. I'm hearing mixed reviews on this subject. Some are saying the build up of vaccines are harmful. She is 5.5lbs and suffering from heart problems. Currently she takes Vasotec, Atenolol, Furosemide and Digoxin. Thanks, Pegge

Answer: Pegge-

I have not seen any really good evidence to suggest that there is a syndrome of caused by "over vaccination" or that there is a buildup of problems due to repeated yearly vaccination in dogs. There are some veterinarians making these claims but they have not produced any really solid evidence that I am aware of at this time.

On the other hand, there is evidence that vaccinations do sometimes cause complications, such as a brief period of immune suppression, allergic reactions and evidence that vaccines can on rare occasions induce immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) in dogs. In cats, vaccinations have been shown to increase the rate of fibrosarcomas, which are a particular type of cancer. No such problem is known to exist in dogs at this time, though.

Vaccines have saved the lives of a great number of dogs and cats. However, if there are problems, even if they are rare, with vaccine administration and the vaccines provide more than a year of protection, there is a feeling among many veterinarians that the interval between vaccines should be increased. Whether or not that will affect your Yorkie depends on where you live, the lifestyle of your dog and the risks of various diseases based on that assessment.

At the present time it is fairly safe to say that parvovirus and distemper vaccinations last much longer than one year, once there is a good response to the vaccine. It is usually safe to assume that there has been a good response if a dog has had the puppy vaccination series and been revaccinated at least once or twice. I do not know how long adenovirus and parainfluenza virus protection lasts from the vaccines. Leptospirosis vaccines probably provide less than a year of protection. I do not know the duration of immunity from Lyme disease vaccination. Rabies vaccine lasts between three and five years but some states require yearly vaccinations for this virus and almost all states require revaccination after three years.

So even though I don't think there is a problem that can be related to vaccinating at yearly intervals, I don't think all dogs require vaccinations at yearly intervals. Dogs that live in areas where leptospirosis might be a problem may require vaccination twice a year. Other dogs may only require vaccination every three years or so.

I do think it is really important for dogs to have a yearly physical exam and I think that most would benefit from at least once a year teeth cleaning and dental exams, too. So I wouldn't put off a visit to the vet but if you are worried about vaccinations you might want to ask how likely it is that your dog will be exposed to the various diseases it has been vaccinated for and what the best vaccination interval for your particular dog might be.

If your vet is reluctant to discuss this issue and prefers to stick to a yearly vaccination schedule for all dogs, he or she is not in the minority at the present time. I tend to worry a little about vaccinating pets when they have problems like heart disease that requires several medications to control, though. Even a slight reaction from the vaccine can lead to more complications in these patients. I would really take a hard look at how much risk there really is for the various diseases you might consider vaccinations for in this case and try to eliminate any unnecessary vaccinations.

Mike Richards, DVM 3/28/2000

Limping after vaccinations

Q: Dr Mike, I have a 1 year old male, neutered, Akita/Golden Retreiver mix, who had his shots just today. After his return from the Vet, I noticed that he was limping on his right leg, and all throughout the day. Is this something to be concerned about? I know that when they get their shots, they will be sore, but does this relate to his limping? Should I give him asprin, or should I not really worry too much as this will subside soon? Thanks, Bobbie

A: Bobbie- I am hoping your dog is fine now but I thought it would be best to answer your question. It is always better to check with your vet whenever anything unusual happens after vaccinations or after a new medication is started. There is a good chance that the problem is not directly related to the vaccination but more to the car ride, getting on and off the vet's table or something like that. But it is always best to check with your vet if you have a question about a change in behavior or physical signs of illness or injury that occur after an office visit.

Mike Richards, DVM

Vaccination lumps - seromas and abscesses

Q: Hi my name is Jorge and I want to tell you that my dog have a problem because the doctor put the vaccine in a wrong way or place and it have a really big ball where the vaccine was put near the stomach. The doctor said that he will have to remove it if it dont get more liquid and if get liquid he will take it out with a syringe. I wonder if you can tell me if another thing may be done. If you dont understand write me . Thank you Jorge.

A: Jorge- I am pretty sure that your dog is probably better by now. Sometimes lumps do form where vaccines are given. If these are fluid filled lumps they are usually either abscesses or seromas. An abscess is an infected pocket under the skin and they are a rare problem. Seromas are accumulations of serum, the liquid portion of the blood, under the skin. These occur when the vaccine irritates the veins in the area and they leak serum or if there is bleeding under the skin, perhaps due to the needle passing through a vein or skin artery. These are more common than infections (abscesses) and they tend to go away on their own after one to three weeks. It is always a good idea to let your vet look at any lumps that form after vaccination, which you seem to have done. I am sure your vet will keep working with you to resolve this problem as long as is necessary.

Mike Richards, DVM

Allergic to Vaccination

Q: I have a 7 yr. old Shih Tzu that has had allergic reactions to any type of vaccination. Her last vaccination (rabies) she had severe hives, swelling of the face (eyes swollen shut) and throat. The vet had to give her a shot in her front leg and keep her for observation the rest of the day. The vet said she is apparently allergic to the egg culture the vaccine is grown in. What do I do when she is due for her rabies shot next time?

A: There are new vaccines coming on the market, hopefully this year, which utilize recombinant gene technology. These vaccines should be much less likely to produce allergic reactions as they usually do not require adjuvents (the extra ingredients in vaccines which help make the immune system react to the vaccine). It may be a good idea to ask your vet about the use of one of these vaccines if they have been marketed when your dog needs to be vaccinated next time. I don't think any of the currently available rabies vaccines are grown in egg culture anymore but I could be wrong. It is possible that your dog is reacting to the rabies virus antigen or to the vaccine adjuvents.

It is usually possible to control acute allergic reactions to vaccination by preadministration of antihistamines and/or corticosteroids. For "booster" vaccinations it does not appear to interfere with immunity to administer corticosteroids concurrently with the vaccination.

If it wasn't rabies vaccine that your dog was reacting to, I'd probably just advise skipping the vaccination. This isn't possible for rabies vaccines since they are usually required by law and there is some risk to your pet in the event he bites someone and is not vaccinated. Long quarantines or even euthanasia to allow examination of the brain for rabies virus may be necessary when a dog with an expired rabies vaccination bites someone, even accidentally. Ask your vet about the newer vaccines. There is a good chance they will be available within the next year.

Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...