Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Reptiles and amphibians can carry germs that infect humans and other animals. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that spread from animals to humans. Most of the zoonotic diseases of reptiles and amphibians are caused by bacteria.
Reptiles and amphibians that carry harmful bacteria often have no symptoms and seem completely normal. If you have a reptile or amphibian pet, assume that it is harboring bacteria and use safe handling practices to keep everyone healthy.
Stress, poor nutrition, and an unclean environment increase the chance of a bacterial infection in a reptile or amphibian. Learn all you can about your pet’s husbandry and be sure you’re providing everything it needs: the right food, temperature, humidity, water quality, type and timing of lights, sanitation, and opportunities to engage in normal activities for its species (like climbing, burrowing, or hiding).
Salmonella infection is the most common disease that reptiles and amphibians spread to humans. People most often contract salmonellosis from contaminated food but can also be infected through the many animal species that carry Salmonella. With reptiles and amphibians, sources of infection are the animal itself, the animal’s food (including frozen or live rodents), water, habitat (terrarium or tank), and items inside the habitat.
Any reptile or amphibian can carry Salmonella. Outbreaks in humans in the last decade have been linked to turtles, bearded dragons, and crested geckos. The risk is especially high with very small turtles, which is why it’s illegal in the United States to sell turtles with shells less than 4 inches long.
Humans are infected by getting the bacteria in their mouths, so good hygiene—such as washing hands and keeping habitats clean—helps prevent infection. Symptoms of infection in people include diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, and fever. The risk of severe illness is highest for young children, elderly people, and people with impaired immune systems.
Animals that carry Salmonella are often not sick, so they have no symptoms. Reptiles and amphibians that are sick with salmonellosis might have decreased appetite, decreased energy, and diarrhea.
Mycobacterium bacteria are transmitted through contact with an infected animal or contaminated water. In people, infection causes skin sores and can spread throughout the body, especially in those with weakened immune systems. Reptiles and amphibians carrying Mycobacterium can have no symptoms at all or symptoms related to whichever part of the body the bacteria have infected: skin, lungs, joints, etc.
Aeromonas bacteria live in water and spread through skin wounds or ingestion of contaminated water or other material. Fish, amphibians, and reptiles in aquatic environments can be infected. Symptoms of infection in people include wound infections, vomiting, and diarrhea. As with other types of infection, people with lowered immunity have the highest risk of severe disease. Infected animals can develop discolored limbs, bleeding disorders, and blood infections.
Other Bacteria and Parasites
Like all animals, reptiles and amphibians harbor a huge variety of bacteria, some of which could potentially infect humans. Reptiles and amphibians can also be infected with parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium that might pose a risk to people.
Safe Handling Practices
For More Information
See the Reptiles and Amphibians section of the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/reptiles.html
Photo by Vitya Lapatey on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Holiday celebrations can be stressful for pets. Visitors, changes in routine, changes in food, unfamiliar scents and objects in the home, traveling, and noise can all cause anxiety for animals. Animals are more likely to bite when they’re scared or anxious, so minimizing sources of stress for your pets will help keep the holidays happy for everyone.
Limit Stressful Situations
To identify sources of stress for your pets, think like an animal. Animals feel safest when their routines and environment are predictable. Keep meal times, nap times, and exercise and play schedules about the same as usual. You might want to sleep late on a holiday (OK, the day after a holiday), but if your pets are used to a very consistent morning routine, this change could contribute to stress.
It’s normal and very human to want to include pets in our celebrations, but be careful not to think of your animals as little people in fur (or scale or feather) coats. They won’t feel left out if they’re not invited to a party. Most animals would rather be in a nice quiet room than in the middle of holiday hubbub. Think about your pets’ usual behavior around strangers and noise, and let them stay wherever they are most comfortable and safe.
Be aware of foods that aren’t safe for animals, especially if you have visitors who don’t know what your pets should and shouldn’t eat. Chocolate, xylitol sweetener, grapes, raisins, onion, garlic, and raw yeast dough are some of the foods that can be dangerous for animals. Limit or avoid table food for your pets; fatty or rich food can cause digestive upset. A holiday trip to the emergency veterinary clinic is not on anyone’s wish list.
Contact your veterinarian in advance if your pet is afraid of fireworks or has travel anxiety. Your veterinarian might recommend prescription or nonprescription antianxiety medication, depending on the symptoms. Plan ahead for this. Your pet might need a veterinary examination before medication can be prescribed.
Watch for Signs of Stress
The early signs of fear and anxiety can be subtle. Owners sometimes don’t realize their pets are in distress until the behavior escalates to aggression (an attempt to remove a perceived threat). Watch for any changes from the usual behavior. Some animals withdraw and hide in response to stress; others become hyperactive or clingy.
Signs of Anxiety in Dogs
Signs of Anxiety in Cats
Photo by Tyler Farmer on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The way we feed cats—not just the type of diet we choose—can affect their physical and mental health.
Animals are happiest and healthiest when they’re able to do all of the things that are normal for their species. For cats, normal feeding behavior is related to their nature as hunters.
Almost all cat species are solitary hunters, unlike wolves and other canines that hunt in packs. (Lions are the exception.) Domestic cats have not evolved far from their wild relatives in this respect. This means that pet cats usually like to eat several small meals a day alone, according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP).
The following suggestions are from the 2018 AAFP consensus statement on feline feeding programs.
Potential Health Problems Related to Feeding Methods
Some common feeding methods can cause physical and emotional problems for pet cats, says the AAFP.
Feeding 1 or 2 large meals a day in a single location contributes to inactivity and weight gain, increasing the risk for medical problems like diabetes. Eliminating the need to hunt reduces a cat’s activity level and mental stimulation. And feeding cats in a group might lead to food-related conflict and stress, which in cats is linked to bladder and behavior problems.
Suggestions for Feeding Cats
Suggestions for Multiple Cats
1. Sadek T, Hamper B, Horwitz D, Rodan I, Rowe E, Sundahl E. Feline feeding programs: addressing behavioral needs to improve feline health and wellbeing. J Feline Med Surg. 2018;20(11):1049-1055. doi:10.1177/1098612X18791877
2. Delgado MM, Han BSG, Bain MJ. Domestic cats (Felis catus) prefer freely available food over food that requires effort. Anim Cogn. Published online July 26, 2021. doi:10.1007/s10071-021-01530-3
Photo by Long Ma on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Before bringing a plant into your home, be sure it’s safe for your pets. Some plants are so toxic they should never be kept in homes where animals live (the most hazardous are sago palms and, for cats, lilies). But many plants pose little danger to animals and are good choices for households with pets.
If you need to find out if a plant is safe, the list of toxic and nontoxic plants on the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website is an excellent resource: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants.
You can search the list for specific plants, and you can also generate lists of plants that are toxic or not toxic for dogs, cats, or horses. Some toxic and nontoxic plants have very similar common names, so always check a plant’s scientific name.
“Toxic” is a relative term when it comes to plants. Plants listed as toxic might cause anything from mild mouth irritation to death. Even plants listed as nontoxic can cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea if they’re eaten. Plants listed as nontoxic should not cause life-threatening illness in animals.
These are a few of the houseplants that are not toxic to dogs and cats, according to ASPCA Animal Poison Control. Scientific names are from the ASPCA and the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/).
African violet (Streptocarpus ionanthus)
American or baby rubber plant (Peperomia obtusifolia)
Always check the scientific names of plants called “rubber.” Baby rubber plants aren’t toxic to dogs and cats. Jade plants, sometimes called dwarf rubber or Chinese rubber plants (Crassula ovata), are toxic. Indian rubber plants (Ficus benjamina) are also toxic to dogs and cats.
Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalta)
Some ferns are safe and some aren’t. Boston fern isn’t toxic to dogs and cats, but asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus [Sprengeri group]) and some of the ferns that grow outdoors are. Fern palm is another name for sago palm (Cycas and Zamia species), one of the most dangerous plants to have anywhere near an animal.
Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera species)
Christmas cactus isn’t toxic, but pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli) irritates the mouth and stomach and can cause vomiting.
Gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
Gerbera daisies are safe for dogs and cats. Some other daisy-like plants are listed as toxic; these include seaside daisy (Erigeron speciosus), chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum species), chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), and, not surprisingly, poison daisy/mayweed (Eclipta prostrata).
Hens and chicks (Sempervivum species)
The small succulent called hens and chicks isn’t toxic. Some other succulents, like jade plants (Crassula species), can be toxic to dogs and cats.
Majesty palm (Ravenea rivularis), parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
Always look up palm species to be sure they’re safe. Majesty, parlor, and several other types of palm are safe for dogs and cats, but sago palm (Cycas and Zamia species) can be deadly.
Phalaenopsis or moth orchid (Phalaenopsis species)
Spider or ribbon plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Zebra haworthia (Haworthiopsis species)
The zebra plant looks similar to aloe (Aloe vera) but is safer for dogs and cats. Aloe can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Public domain photo of Phalaenopsis or moth orchids by Bob Burch on Flickr
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Cancer is most common in older animals but can develop in animals of any age. Cancer can affect almost any part of the body, so the symptoms vary. The earlier cancer is found, the better for the pet.
Lumps and bumps on or under the skin are usually benign, but some are malignant (cancerous). Any lump that’s the size of a pea or larger and present for at least a month, or one that’s rapidly enlarging or changing in appearance, should be checked by a veterinarian. It’s not possible to tell if a lump is cancerous just by the way it feels. Diagnosis usually requires analyzing a sample of the lump under a microscope (see Skin Lumps in Dogs and Cats for more information).
Changes in Weight
Unexplained or sudden weight loss is a cause for concern. Many diseases, including cancer, can cause weight loss. Unexpected weight gain could also be a sign of cancer if it’s caused by fluid buildup.
Playing less, sleeping more, and moving more slowly could be effects of aging but might be caused by pain or an illness like cancer. Don’t assume that pets (especially seniors) that are slowing down or sleeping a lot are just old or tired; have a veterinarian examine them.
Changes in Appetite
Cancer often causes a drop in appetite. Reluctance to eat could also be caused by dental disease or other medical problems.
Vomiting or Diarrhea
Digestive trouble like vomiting and diarrhea is very common in dogs and cats. Vomiting or diarrhea that lasts longer than a few days and doesn’t get better with treatment—especially if the animal also has other symptoms—should be investigated further. Cancer of the digestive tract and many other medical problems can cause long-term vomiting or diarrhea.
Signs of Pain
Limping, reluctance to move, hunched posture, and other signs of pain could indicate cancer. Bone cancer doesn’t only affect older animals; sometimes it happens in young dogs. Contact your veterinarian if your pet has signs of pain, and never give human pain medication to an animal unless your veterinarian has specifically recommended it. Some human pain medications are toxic to dogs and cats.
Coughing or Trouble Breathing
Cancer of structures in the chest (lymph nodes, lungs, or heart) and cancer that has spread to the lungs are among the many causes of coughing.
Cancer can cause the belly to swell from fluid buildup, bleeding into the abdomen, or enlargement of abdominal organs like the liver and spleen.
Changes in Urine or Stool
Changes in urine volume or frequency, blood in the urine or stool, and difficulty passing urine or stool can all potentially be caused by cancer and warrant a veterinary examination. Blood in the stool looks tarry black or bright red depending on the part of the digestive tract it’s from. An inability to pass urine is a medical emergency.
Discharge or Drainage
Anything oozing or leaking from your pet should be checked by a veterinarian. Cancer is one of the possible causes of unusual discharge from body orifices such as the eyes, nose, mouth, and anus.
Foul or Unusual Odor
Bad breath is usually caused by dental or periodontal disease but could be a sign of cancer. Cancers inside the mouth and nose can be very hard to see in an animal without sedation. Tumors in other areas of the body can also cause odd odors.
Wounds That Don’t Heal
A skin sore or wound that doesn’t heal on its own could be a sign of skin disease, infection, or skin cancer.
Photo by Tereza Hošková on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Human medications that are applied to the skin can be dangerous for pets. Even tiny amounts of some topical drug preparations are toxic to dogs and cats.
Animals are exposed to topical medications by chewing a product tube, licking the product from a person’s skin, licking their fur after being touched by someone with the product on their hands, or possibly by absorbing the medication through their own skin.
If you use any topical medications, be aware of the possible risk to animals. Keep all medications out of your pets’ reach. Wash the product off your hands or wear gloves while applying it, and keep pets from licking skin and bedding that the product has touched.
If you think your pet has been exposed to a toxin, contact your veterinarian or animal poison control:
Calcipotriene and calcitriol are forms of vitamin D used to treat psoriasis. Animals that swallow topical preparations can develop abnormally high calcium levels and potentially life-threatening kidney damage. Symptoms include loss of appetite, vomiting, and increased urine volume.
Topical corticosteroids like betamethasone, clobetasol, hydrocortisone, and triamcinolone are used to treat various skin conditions. In animals, exposure can lead to a wide range of symptoms including increased urine volume, increased thirst, vomiting, and skin changes.
Animals exposed to topical hormone products containing estradiol and other forms of estrogen can develop hair loss, anemia, or low levels of platelets and white blood cells.
Fluorouracil cream is used to treat certain skin cancers. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that 5 dogs have died after ingesting small amounts of fluorouracil; 1 of the dogs died after simply puncturing the tube with its teeth. Symptoms in cats and dogs include vomiting, loss of balance, and seizures.
The hair loss treatment minoxidil (Rogaine) can cause severe heart problems in animals exposed to small amounts. At least 8 cats have died after their owners used topical minoxidil. Other cats and dogs have become seriously ill.
Pain Relievers: Local Anesthetics
Local anesthetics like benzocaine, lidocaine, and tetracaine (ingredients ending in ‑caine) are often included in over-the-counter products to treat pain from sunburn, insect bites, and so forth. If swallowed, these drugs can cause seizures and abnormal heart rhythm.
Pain Relievers: Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs
Flurbiprofen and diclofenac are among the many nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) commonly used to treat pain. Some veterinary NSAIDs are safe to use in dogs, but most human NSAIDs are dangerous for animals, especially cats. The FDA has warned that topical flurbiprofen can cause serious illness or death in pets that are exposed to the product on a person’s skin. Many over-the-counter topical pain relievers contain NSAIDs, so read product labels carefully.
Retinoids like adapalene and tretinoin are used to treat acne and skin disorders and are included in some wrinkle remedies. Exposure can lead to liver damage in animals.
Zinc oxide is a common ingredient in over-the-counter sunscreens, diaper rash creams, and other products. Animals can vomit and have diarrhea after swallowing zinc oxide.
1. Tater KC, Gwaltney-Brant S, Wismer T. Dermatological topical products used in the US population and their toxicity to dogs and cats. Vet Dermatol. 2019;30(6):474-e140. doi:10.1111/vde.12796
2. FDA advice on pet exposure to prescription topical (human) cancer treatment: fluorouracil. US Food and Drug Administration. November 2, 2020. Accessed October 22, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/fda-advice-pet-exposure-prescription-topical-human-cancer-treatment-fluorouracil
3. Tater KC, Gwaltney-Brant S, Wismer T. Topical minoxidil exposures and toxicoses in dogs and cats: 211 cases (2001-2019). J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2021;57(5):225-231. doi:10.5326/JAAHA-MS-7154
4. FDA consumer advice on pet exposure to prescription topical pain medications containing flurbiprofen. US Food and Drug Administration. October 1, 2019. Accessed October 22, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/fda-consumer-advice-pet-exposure-prescription-topical-pain-medications-containing-flurbiprofen
5. Khan SA. Topical preparations (toxicity). Merck Veterinary Manual. August 2014. Accessed October 22, 2021. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/toxicities-from-human-drugs/topical-preparations-toxicity
Photo by Lina Angelov on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Obesity in animals is linked to diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and other problems. For National Pet Obesity Awareness Day (October 13 this year), here are some steps you can take to help overweight pets slim down.
Know Your Pet’s Ideal Weight
Excess weight is very common in dogs and cats. About 56% of dogs and 60% of cats in the United States are overweight or obese, according to a 2018 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Many owners of overweight pets don’t realize that their pet is too heavy or that the excess weight could cause health problems.
Ask your veterinarian to assess your pet’s weight. If your pet is overweight or obese, don’t be discouraged and don’t take it personally; your pet has plenty of company!
Check out these body condition charts to see if your pet might be overweight: https://petobesityprevention.org/pet-weight-check
Talk to Your Veterinarian
Before starting a weight-loss program for your pet, consult your veterinarian. A medical condition might be causing your pet’s weight gain, or your pet could have a disease like diabetes that needs to be addressed.
Work with your veterinarian to develop your pet’s weight-loss plan. Every animal and household situation is unique. Does a family member feed the pet table food? Does your pet eat freely from a bowl left out all day? Does another pet in the household need a special diet? Are you able to take your dog for walks? Your pet’s plan will depend on the answers to questions like these.
Reduce Calories Safely
Reducing a pet’s weight might be as simple as reducing the amount of food you put in the bowl. But animals need to eat enough protein and other nutrients to stay healthy. Overweight cats that don’t eat because they don’t like a new food are at risk of developing a serious liver disease called hepatic lipidosis.
A good way to start is by limiting treats and snacks. Treats should make up less than 10% of an animal’s diet, and it’s perfectly fine not to feed any treats at all. If you or a family member gives your pet treats, consider making these changes:
Ask your veterinarian how many calories per day your pet should eat to lose weight safely. Once you know this number, you and your veterinarian can calculate how much to feed your pet.
Your veterinarian might recommend changing diets. Some prescription diets are formulated to reduce calorie intake while keeping animals satisfied and feeling full. If you need to change your pet’s food, introduce the new food gradually over several days.
Increase Physical Activity
Exercise helps animals lose weight and maintain muscle. The type of exercise depends on your pet’s individual needs as well as your own preferences and available time. As always, consult your veterinarian before significantly changing your pet’s activity level, especially if your pet is elderly or has another condition like arthritis.
You don’t have to take your dog on 5-mile runs or convince your cat to walk with a harness. Here are some ideas from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention:
Monitor Your Pet’s Weight
Keep track of your pet’s progress. If your pet is losing weight too slowly or too rapidly, talk to your veterinarian about adjusting the plan.
1. 2018 Pet obesity survey results. Pet Obesity Prevention. March 12, 2019. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://petobesityprevention.org/2018
2. 2014 AAHA weight management guidelines for dogs and cats: initial assessment. American Animal Hospital Association. Accessed October 7, 2021. https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/weight-management-configuration/initial-assessment/
Photo by Joe Caione on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Choosing a pet food can be confusing. Much of the information that’s available online is either marketing hype or just plain wrong, and it can be hard for pet owners to tell nutrition myths from facts.
Pet food labels aren’t easy to interpret either. Labels are designed to generate an emotional response and drive sales, and the bits that tell you about nutritional adequacy tend to be in tiny print.
The brand of food is almost always more important than specific ingredients. Ingredient lists can be misleading; they sometimes include items that seem appealing but don’t actually add to a food’s nutritional value. An inexpensive food from a reputable manufacturer is a better choice than an expensive food from a questionable manufacturer.
To help pet owners choose among the huge number of commercial diets, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has published guidelines for selecting pet foods. Their recommendations fall into 2 categories: brand choice and label information. For specific advice for your own pet, consult your veterinarian.
Photo by Konstantinos Feggoulis on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Ringworm (dermatophytosis) is a skin infection caused by fungi. It’s called ringworm because in humans it sometimes looks like a small circular skin rash. Ringworm isn’t caused by a worm, despite the name.
Ringworm is zoonotic: it spreads between animals and people. Many animal species carry ringworm. The infection is transmitted by contact with an infected host or with contaminated soil, bedding, or other objects in the environment.
Causes and Risk Factors
Many types of fungi cause ringworm in different host species (animals and people). The most common fungi that infect cats and dogs are Microsporum canis and Trichophyton mentagrophytes, whose natural hosts are animals, and M gypseum, which is found in soil.
Fungi tend to infect abraded skin, not healthy intact skin, so scratches and scrapes—for example, from scratching itchy skin—make ringworm more likely.
The pet animals most likely to have ringworm are young puppies and kittens, free-roaming animals, and animals living in warm or humid climates. Working and hunting dogs are more likely than indoor dogs to encounter fungal spores in the environment.
Signs of Infection
In dogs and cats, ringworm doesn’t typically cause the ringlike skin lesion that it causes in humans. Ringworm in animals mimics other skin diseases and can’t be diagnosed just by its appearance. Some animals have no visible signs at all. These are some of the signs of ringworm in dogs and cats:
Ringworm isn’t usually itchy. However, skin conditions that an animal might have at the same time as ringworm could cause itchy skin, and these conditions can also make a fungal infection more likely.
A combination of diagnostic tests might be needed to confirm a fungal infection and monitor the response to treatment. M canis infection causes hairs to glow fluorescent green under a Wood’s lamp, a type of ultraviolet light source, although the fluorescence can be difficult to see in some patients. Samples collected by plucking hairs or brushing affected skin can be submitted for fungal culture or polymerase chain reaction testing.
In animals and people with normal immune function, ringworm can clear on its own without treatment, although this can take weeks or months. The goals of treatment are to clear the infection more quickly and prevent the infection from spreading to others.
In dogs and cats, treatment often involves both topical treatment and oral medication. Topical treatment (like antifungal shampoos) reduces the risk of disease transmission and environmental contamination. Oral medication treats the fungal infection at its source.
Decontaminating an infected animal’s surroundings might be part of the treatment plan. Environmental decontamination prevents false-positive culture results (caused by noninfective fungal spores carried on the fur) that might lengthen the course of treatment.
These steps help prevent ringworm from spreading to people and other animals:
1. Moriello KA, Coyner K, Paterson S, Mignon B. Diagnosis and treatment of dermatophytosis in dogs and cats. Clinical Consensus Guidelines of the World Association for Veterinary Dermatology. Vet Dermatol. 2017;28(3):266-e68. doi:10.1111/vde.12440
2. Ringworm. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed September 9, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/ringworm.html
Image source: CDC Public Health Image Library
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Vaccines for dogs and cats are safe, especially compared with the risk of disease. Most animals don’t have any untoward symptoms after receiving a vaccine. But vaccines, like any other medicine, can have some side effects.
Vaccination produces an immune response, and inflammation is part of the immune response. Most of the symptoms (if any) that animals have after vaccination are caused by normal inflammation, meaning that the immune system is acting the way it’s supposed to act when it’s stimulated.
Allergic (hypersensitivity) reactions to vaccines are uncommon in dogs and cats but can be serious. These reactions are caused by an inappropriate immune response. The most severe type of hypersensitivity reaction is anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening.
In one study of dogs in the United States, the rate of vaccine-associated adverse events, including everything from normal inflammatory responses to anaphylaxis, was 0.38% (38 events per 10,000 vaccine doses). Anaphylaxis accounted for 1.7% of the adverse events. The risk of adverse events was highest in small-breed dogs and dogs who received multiple vaccines at the same time.
These are some of the common mild vaccine effects you might notice in your dog or cat. In most cases it’s safe to monitor these symptoms at home. If any of these symptoms last longer than a day or if your pet seems very uncomfortable, contact your veterinarian.
More Serious Symptoms
Allergic reactions to vaccines appear minutes or several hours after vaccination. Anaphylaxis can start with these symptoms and is a medical emergency. Seek veterinary care right away if your pet has any of these symptoms.
Lumps at Injection Sites
Most small, firm lumps at vaccine injection sites are caused by inflammation and resolve in a couple of weeks without treatment. An injection-site lump or swelling that is still present after 3 weeks or is enlarging should be checked by a veterinarian. Injection-site cancer is rare but can happen in cats (vaccine protocols and formulations for cats minimize this risk as much as possible).
Vaccines could—at least in theory—be linked to autoimmune diseases, in which the immune system targets cells of the body. Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (affecting red blood cells) and thrombocytopenia (affecting platelets) occur in animals, but the association of these disorders with vaccination isn’t clear. The presence of an autoimmune disease would affect future vaccination decisions for the animal, though.
If Your Pet Has Had a Vaccine Reaction
Tell your veterinarian if your pet has had any vaccine-related symptoms. Your veterinarian will determine if your pet most likely had a normal inflammatory response or an allergic reaction. The decision on how to proceed with future vaccinations depends on the symptoms, the animal’s overall health, and the animal’s individual risk for vaccine-preventable diseases.
Depending on the circumstances, options for future vaccinations might include dividing vaccines among several visits instead of giving multiple vaccines all at once, giving medication (like an antihistamine) before vaccination, using a different type of vaccine, or discontinuing a vaccination. Vaccine titers—levels of antibody in the blood—indicate whether an animal is likely to still be protected by earlier vaccines, so titer testing can replace vaccination in some cases.
Some of these options don’t apply to rabies vaccination, which is mandated by law. In North Carolina and South Carolina, as in many states, veterinarians cannot give medical exemptions for rabies vaccination, and rabies antibody titers can’t be used instead of vaccination.
1. Moore GE, Guptill LF, Ward MP, et al. Adverse events diagnosed within three days of vaccine administration in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2005;227(7):1102-1108. doi:10.2460/javma.2005.227.1102
2. Tizard IR. Adverse consequences of vaccination. Vaccines for Veterinarians. 2021;115-130.e1. doi:10.1016/B978-0-323-68299-2.00019-8
3. AAHA canine vaccination guidelines: vaccine adverse reactions. American Animal Hospital Association. Accessed August 27, 2021. https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/vaccination-canine-configuration/frequently-asked-questions/how-can-adverse-reactions-be-managed/
4. Rabiesaware.org. Accessed August 27, 2021. http://www.rabiesaware.org/
Photo by Raghavendra V. Konkathi on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.