Today I took my dog, Inara, to work with me for her annual vaccines. She received a rabies vaccine, distemper-parvo, leptospirosis, bordetella, a fecal exam, and a heartworm test. All of the things I recommend to my clients I also do for my own pets. Inara was a trooper and handled all of it well. I did her services first thing in the morning and then put her in a kennel while I started to work on morning appointments and surgeries.
Two hours later I was in the back getting a patient and decided to give Inara some attention. To my great surprise I saw that her whole face was inflamed and puffy. Yes, my own dog was having a vaccine reaction. She had received these same vaccines as a puppy, and these were her first annual boosters. When she was younger she didn't have any problems, so I had no reason to suspect a reaction this time. Unfortunately, reactions are individual and unpredictable.
Thankfully, most vaccine reactions are merely uncomfortable and not life-threatening. In 13 years of practice and having given untold thousands of doses of vaccines, I have only seen three pets have a truly anaphylactic reaction. Inara wasn't one of these severe reactors, and was wagging her tail as I started at her swollen muzzle and eyes. A quick exam told me that she was very stable, but had some discomfort in her face. I couldn't blame her, as all of her subcutaneous tissues were inflamed!
I gave her some antihistamines and antiinflammatories and continued to observe her through the day. Over the course of the day her symptoms improved and she was still her normal self (except for some itching at her face). Tonight she is resting comfortably, had a normal dinner, and looks almost completely normal.
Now here is the point where many people would panic. "Oh, my gosh! My dog almost died! She can't ever get shots again!" As I said before, most reactions are not potentially fatal, and simple precautions can help prevent many mild reactions. Her distemper-parvo and rabies vaccines have a duration of three years, so I won't have to booster those until 2013. However, I will most certainly give them when they are due. I'll premedicate her with antihistamines, place an IV catheter in case any future reactions are more severe, and will keep her in my clinic for the day. All of the same things I would do for any of my clients' pets.
I try hard to practice what I preach. I don't recommend any preventative care that I don't do for my own pets. And I treat my pets like I do my patients. This is the first pet I've ever owned that has had a reaction to vaccines. However, it's not a crisis, and I trust my ability to vaccinate her in the future.