Should senior dogs get shots and can they cause breathing problems?

Our question this week was:

Dr. Debra – I have a question. Two of my elderly dogs suffered from respiratory problem after receiving shots after the age of seven, and within a week of the shots they had to be put down. The first dog, Christy was seven years and had no signs of health problems but a week after the shots, rabies and others, she couldn't breathe, It was in July, it was hot, but they couldn't save her. They took x-rays and said she had cancer in the lungs and wouldn't live through the night.

My second dog Brewsky had quite a big list of problems, seizures, tumors, ears, coughing, you name it, and was twelve years old. We actually took him into the Vet for blood work to check his levels and a full panel because he was coughing and we felt a check up was needed to see if he was suffering with lung problems or tumors on his organs. He had a bad episode a couple of days before, not a seizure but something that made his belly pull in like he was having cramps, and the cough sounded like a croup. The year before we had seven pounds of tumors taken off and the remainder of tumors grew faster than we anticipated, but surgery wasn't an option because he almost bled out then, he probably had another fifteen pounds of tumors on him, and we knew there wasn't much else we could do for him at his age.However when he got the shots, he went downhill within a week which prompted us to have him put down, it was very hard to watch him suffer so much, but I wanted to know if the shots that were given to him had anything to do with his fast demise.Is there an age when shots shouldn't be given to dogs, and how can the records reflect that when we have to get license and show proof? I have one more dog, Tacoma, and she seems healthy but I fear she will have the same reaction, she also received shots at the same time with no reaction, but still, we will be fearful in three years when we get the next set of shots due to her age. Our Vet says there isn't a connection, but with two dogs having the same reaction doesn't make me feel confident in that answer. I hope to see an article on this in the future; I think it would help others with elderly dogs to understand what affect these shots have, if any. By the way Brewsky's blood work came back good and within the levels of his taking Phenobarbital with no problems with his organs, next step would have been x-rays, but he didn't make it.Thank you for giving people a way to express their love for their animals, it warms the heart.

John Doyle – Lancaster, California


Hi John– thanks for your email. I'm sorry to hear about your dogs. It sounds like and awful situation. You have two questions, first do I think that the shots had anything to do with your dogs deaths and second – if it is safe to give older dogs shots.

As for your first question, I have not seen a reaction to shots like what you described. The most common reaction to vaccines that I have seen have has been skin swelling and hives which is a common allergic reaction to shots, bee stings, etc. In rare situations, some dogs will have an anaphylactic reaction to vaccines that can be life-threatening. Signs may include vomiting, sudden severe lethargy, weakness usually occurring within minutes of getting the shots.

As far as your second question about should senior dogs get shots and if so, how often is more complicated. Several years ago, vaccine recommendations changed for cats because a cat's immunity to some diseases was thought to be longer than a year. Therefore, some cat vaccines are recommended to be given every three years.

For dogs, the recommendation is generally still yearly. Some veterinarians will take into account the medical history, exposure to diseases, traveling and boarding history and determine if yearly shots are still required. Some counties require yearly rabies and other areas require it every three years. I'm not sure that most dogs need every vaccine every year. However for dogs that board, Bordetella may be required yearly. Discuss this with your veterinarian. I have not seen any major negative consequences from yearly vaccination of dogs. The most published problem that may be associated with vaccines is a disease called "Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia".

An article that might be helpful to you is Vaccine reactions in Dogs and Recommendations for Vaccinating Your Senior Dog.

Again, I'm sorry for your loss.


Dr. Debra

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