Is it normal for a dog to become lethargic and weak after a rabies shot?
Original Question: Love your show Dr. Greenway! I have a 5 year old Shih Tzu/Bichon named Happy. As his name suggests, he's been a happy, energetic dog who loves to play since day 1. Less than 2 weeks ago he had his rabies shot. Last week he started becoming lethargic and can't jump up onto my couch or bed anymore. He's eating, drinking, pooping and peeing but he's just not "happy." Is this something that will take care of itself? Thank you - Mary
I’m Dr. Clayton Greenway with healthcareforpets.com and we’re answering questions this morning that came into the website. This one comes from Mary and she says, “I have a five-year-old Shih Tzu/Bichon named Happy. As his name suggests, he’s been a happy, energetic dog who loves to play since day one. Less than two weeks ago he had his rabies shot. Last week he started becoming lethargic and can’t jump onto my couch or bed anymore. He’s eating and drinking, pooping and peeing, seems fine, he’s just not happy. Is this something that will take care of itself?”
This is a really interesting question. This is the first thing I think about when I read this, is the point of me answering questions is trying to help you out but in this type of case, you really should get a physical exam, do some blood work, make sure there’s no problems going on and it’s just a reminder that these answers really are in conjunction with a physical exam and consultation with your veterinarian and particularly in a case like this but here’s a couple of things I can say. You know it’s interesting when Mary talks about the rabies shot and there’s a lot of discussion, concerns, thoughts about vaccination, about the positives and negatives, and it’s a very convoluted deep discussion that I can’t go into, but vaccines are often named as reasons for problems happening. Certainly, a vaccine can cause an animal to be lethargic, just like when we get a vaccination, that’s normal, that’s an expected course of action. It interacts with the immune system and stimulates it and it’s going to tire them out a bit. This is now going on about two weeks and that’s a little longer than I would like. There are reactions that can happen from vaccines that interact with the immune system that I think it’s best to just take a look at some blood work and things like that. The other thing is there might be soreness at the injection site. These vaccines are usually under the skin, not in the muscle so it usually doesn’t cause that much soreness and I don’t hear that often but it’s possible. So you could alleviate some of that with medication or just let them take it easy.
This, if it’s from the vaccination, I’m pretty positive about that because it should just kind of deal with itself but at the same time I would go and get a couple of things checked out. I think it’s okay to wait a little bit on this, monitor for another week, but if any other clinical symptoms come up like coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, anything like that I’d be going to the clinic right away to get some diagnostics done. Aside from that, if this is just a matter of something else happening, maybe somebody came or left the house, maybe a kid went off to college, maybe there’s something going on in the neighborhood where the stimulus isn’t the same anymore, that’s another thing that can make us think our pets are not happy when their environment is not as stimulating for them. So sometimes getting some new toys, interacting with them more, picking up the amount of walking, going to new places, things like that may engage them a little more and bring back some of that personality. It’s very important that we don’t ascribe a human trait or emotion to them like depression. I really think this is a matter of stimulation from the environment when that’s the case.
In this case I’d want Mary to go see the vet, make sure everything’s okay, do some blood work, do a physical exam and be sure that there’s nothing more serious going on but aside from that, usually vaccine reactions resolve themselves. This one’s going on a little bit longer. So hopefully this works out for you Mary, send in another question if you need to and let us know how things are going because here at healthcareforpets.com we’re dedicated to your pet’s health and keep those questions coming in.
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