The Pet PT Pit Stop: Vaccinosis - A Vexing Conundrum

by Susan E. Davis, PT “pull in for a helpful refuel!”  

It’s all about guiding and empowering you to help your dog avoid injury, provide practical solutions and achieve rapid restoration of health and function!   

The familiar phrase “I’m dammed if I do and dammed if I don’t” describes the feeling a dog-owner has when making a decision about vaccinations.  If an adverse reaction occurs it is already too late to prevent the negative effects on the dog.

Vaccinosis is not a true official diagnosis but a term used to describe an adverse effects of vaccination.

In this article, I will describe various signs, symptoms and P.T treatment for vaccinosis as well as a testimonial of a client. I will not give advice as to whether to vaccinate as that issue extends beyond my professional boundaries as a physical therapist.  The decision whether to vaccinate belongs solely with the pet owner, in consultation with their veterinarian.

Today’s pet owners are more concerned about routine vaccination than in years past and typically use a judiciary, individualized approach.

I am not suggesting an ‘anti-vaccine’ philosophy, but advocate a thoughtful assessment of benefit vs risk.

In an effort to avoid over-vaccinating, many veterinarians offer titer tests for older dogs to determine the number or level of antibodies present in the bloodstream before vaccinating.  Veterinarians may advise against performing multiple vaccinations in a single appointment, instead spacing them at least 3 weeks apart.

If you and your vet determine that vaccination may not be safe, but your local jurisdiction requires it (ex: Rabies vaccination might be mandated where you live), obtain a letter of exemption outlining medical risk, which you can submit to local authorities.

How do you know if your dog might be at risk of a reaction? 

First, do research on the breed or breed mix to see if certain known sensitivities exist in otherwise healthy dogs. Be aware that some of the newer ‘designer combo’ breeds of first or second generation (such as Golden Doodle, Labradoodle, AussiePoo, Puggle)) may not yet have documented histories of such risks and sensitivities. It may take a few more years to see if any response patterns exist, but you might discover trends within clubs or local groups of dog owners.

Dogs that are not in optimal health, have compromised immune systems or are currently on immune-suppressive medication and those who are geriatric, may be at risk.
Jana's note: do not ever vaccinate a sick dog. This is actually in the vaccine manufacturer instructions. And yet, quite often people bring a sick dog to a vet who suggests boosters since the dog is already in the office. That's the worst idea ever. At best, the vaccine won't work. At worst, you're risking a serious reaction.

Vaccinosis symptoms usually occur very soon after the vaccination, often the same day or within 24 hours of administration. 

Symptoms may be widespread or localized - usually to the same side in which it was given. Signs can include digestive upset, seizure, tremors, weakness, loss of balance, pain, hypersensitivity to touch, swelling, and lameness. Often, vaccinosis becomes the final ‘diagnosis’ only by exclusion, after other possibilities are ruled out.  Treatments often include medication, acupuncture, physical therapy, chiropractic, etc. 

A client, Lauren M. L., offered to share her experience with vaccinosis after a rabies vaccination in her Labradoodle ‘Claude’:

“Lauren, what were Claude’s initial symptoms?”
“He was showing signs of limited movement right away after the vaccination. He was picking up his hind leg, near the injection site. He stopped running and jumping. Within a week, he was not able to get up without assistance. He would stand and his legs would splay out in all directions, unable to bear his weight. This was a dog that would jump four feet into the air and go on daily runs before the shot.”
“How was Claude diagnosed and how long did that process take?”
“It was difficult. We visited multiple vets and animal hospitals in an effort to help our dog.  (At this point, her husband Dan adds that finding the right care was extremely hard and they only succeeded because Lauren was so diligent in exploring every avenue and getting a range of opinions.) Some doctors wanted to do tests to rule out everything else, others said right away it was Vaccinosis. The original vet who administered the vaccine blamed us and directed us to contact the pharmaceutical company that makes the shot to file a claim for reimbursement for medical expenses incurred.”
“How did you help your dog receive the right care and treatment?”
“We finally found a vet who approached Claude’s care from both a holistic and traditional standpoint. (I interject to clarify that this would be an Integrative Veterinarian). This helped the most. She treated the Vaccinosis directly and saw immediate improvements.  She did medication and acupuncture initially. Once we were able to combine the medicine with the physical therapy treatments our dog’s health and physical strength were restored.”

Dan adds:” If we had listened to the original vet we worked with, I believe we wouldn’t have Claude with us today”.

“What challenges did you face as a pet owner, in coping with the illness?”
Dan provides this answer: “It was hard adjusting our lifestyles to meet his new needs. We put carpeting around the house to help him get traction, placed ramps on the doorways and made sure an adult was always close by in case he fell.  But it was and is painful to see our friend in such distress”.

Claude became my patient and began physical therapy three months after his rabies vaccination. 

He improved within the first 2 weeks of treatment. I believe his rapid response was enhanced by having prior acupuncture. His PT consisted of cold laser, massage, standing over a physio roll, use of quick stretches and limb patterning to facilitate movement, weight shifting and balance exercise, calf strengthening using a rocker board and resistive therabands. The family faithfully performed home exercises, helping Claude up and down steps and daily leash walks.

One year later finds Claude walking 20 minutes per day, running for short bouts in the yard, playing with toys, greeting the mail carrier, and climbing 2-3 steps in and out of the house. However he has residual deficits of elbow pain and is no longer able to climb the staircase to the second floor, but with the help of his family and occasional PT, he is back to loving life!

Further reading:
Preventing Vaccine Associated Illness in Pets
Symptoms and Treatment for Vaccine Associated Illness in Pets


Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program.  She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.

She also provides pro bono services at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, NJ.  Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”.  For more information see her website , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.

Sue is also the author of a fantastic book on physical therapy, Physical Therapy And Rehabilitation For Animals: A Guide For The Consumer.  

Physical therapy can do so many great things for your dog. Understanding all the possibilities physical therapy can offer will change your dog's life. This book definitely belongs on the shelf of every dog lover.

Articles by Susan E. Davis:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?  
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World  
Reiki: Is it real? 
Dog Lessons: Cooper  
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer 
It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy! 
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part I)
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part II Physical Therapy)
Range Of Motion: It’s A Matter Of Degree…
The Weight Of Water And How It Helps Dogs 
By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills 
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part I)
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part II) 
Scar Tissue: Is it Too Much of a Good Thing? 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps! 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ideas to Chew on - Can Physical Therapy Help with my Dog’s Digestive Problems?
Wrap It Up: Using Soft Supports For Your Dog
When Do I Use Heat versus Cold? : A Tale (or Tail) Of Two Temps! (Part I) 
When Do I Use Heat versus Cold? : A Tale (or Tail) Of Two Temps! (Part II) 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Safe Summer Boating Tips for your Dog 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Hip Dysplasia - What’s a Dawg Mama to Do?
PT Pit Stop: Wheeled Carts Keep Them Doggies Rollin' (Part I)
PT Pit Stop: Wheeled Carts Keep Them Doggies Rollin' (Part II)
Staying in the Loop with Targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy
Addressing Frailty Syndrome in Geriatric Dogs 
The Pet PT Pit Stop: "Where's The Evidence?"
Physical Therapy is Great, Except When It Isn’t 
Top Dogs and their Toplines at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (Part I)
Top Dogs and their Toplines at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (Part II) 
What's in a Dog's Gait? 
A Practical Method to manage your Dog’s Care Plan 
Wound Care 101 (Part I The Basics) 
Wound Care 101 (Part II Wound Management)
Prevention and Management of Hip Dysplasia in Puppies: Attention all Breeders!
Support and Braces


  1. Thanks for this - I've been concerned about vaccines for awhile - particularly with my senior rescues. I have no idea how many times they've been vaccinated...and they are over 10...have they had enough. I usually err on the side of not adding more to their bodies unless I have to.

    1. You can always run the titer when in doubt. We've been using that for a few years now. A titer will show antibody levels. With the antibody levels high enough, you know there is immunity. When the levels come out low, there are arguments whether or not immunity is still sufficient or not; but every titer we ran came with antibodies high enough so far.


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