If your dog is having trouble walking after shots, it may be tender from the shot or suffer from rare adverse side effects including anaphylaxis, polyarthritis, and post-vaccinal paralysis. Anaphylaxis can cause dogs to collapse, polyarthritis can cause dogs to limp, and dogs suffering from post-vaccinal paralysis won’t be able to move one or both hind legs.
Vaccination is great to prevent sickness. But it’s unfortunately not all dogs that respond well to vaccines.
So what does it mean if your dog can’t walk or is limping after shots?
In this article, we look at what can cause a dog to struggle to walk after an immunization, what you can do, and how to prevent it from happening again.
Why Is My Dog Having Trouble Walking After Shots?
Dogs that have trouble walking after shots may be experiencing pain related to the shot or adverse side effects. Adverse reactions that can affect a dog’s ability or inclination to walk can include anaphylaxis, polyarthritis, and post-vaccinal paralysis.
Vaccinations are injected directly into muscle. This can easily cause tenderness for a day, resulting in a slight limp.
However, limping can also be a sign of a rare but serious reaction in relation to the following conditions:
- Post-Vaccinal Paralysis
These are rare reactions and are not what most dogs experience after a vaccination.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. It is the result of the immune system overreacting to an allergen (like a bee string). In this case, an ingredient in a vaccine causes a reaction.
If not treated in time, dogs can go into shock and die.
A 15-year study of severe adverse reactions after rabies vaccination in 317 dogs found that 109 dogs experienced anaphylaxis and 71 of the dogs died.
According to the data, this means 15 out of every 1,000,000 dogs experience anaphylaxis after a rabies vaccine. 1 in 1,000,000 dogs die.
The researchers concluded that, although the rate of anaphylaxis in dogs after a rabies vaccine is rare, vets need to be prepared to deal with vaccine-associated anaphylaxis.
Symptoms of Anaphylaxis
If your dog has any of the following symptoms, you need to get your dog to the vet for treatment immediately:
- Hives (red, itching skin swellings).
- Face swelling.
- Excessive drooling.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Bluish tongue and gums.
Polyarthritis is an inflammation of multiple joints. A three-year study by the University of Berlin found a link between dogs that developed polyarthritis and recent vaccination.
Researchers found that vaccine-associated polyarthritis symptoms showed a sudden onset of lameness with several painful and swollen joints three to 15 days after vaccination.
The dogs in the study recovered in one to two days.
Symptoms of Polyarthritis
Symptoms can include the following:
- Swollen joints
- Lack of appetite 
Post-vaccinal paralysis is a condition where dogs are paralyzed following a vaccination. This has been reported after vaccinations for rabies.
Most of the time, the two hind legs are paralyzed. There have been cases of just one leg being paralyzed. The condition can occur within three weeks following the shot.
Post-vaccinal paralysis is not necessarily permanent, but recovery can take time. In one case it took over 30 days.
Symptoms of Paralysis
- Paralysis of one or two hind legs
Related: Dog Shaking After Vaccination
Common Side Effects After Shots In Dogs
Common side effects seen in dogs after vaccination include lethargy, low-grade fever, tender muscles, and loss of appetite. These common side effects last for about 24 hours. Dogs can also sneeze, cough, and experience nasal discharge after an intranasal vaccine.
It’s common for a dog to feel unwell while its immune system mounts a response to the vaccine and builds immunity. Most of the side effects last for about 24 hours:
- Loss of appetite.
- Low-grade fever.
- Tender and red at the vaccination site.
- Slight swelling at the vaccination site.
Some common reactions can last longer than 24 hours:
- Small, firm nodule at the vaccination site that vanishes within 14 days.
- Nasal discharge, sneezing and coughing up to 2 to 4 days after an intranasal vaccine (a vaccine that is sprayed up the nostrils). 
Call the vet for advice if your dog is suffering common vaccine side effects like lethargy, low-grade fever, or a loss of appetite for more than 24 hours.
Prolonged side effects can be a sign that your dog is suffering an adverse reaction. Read on to learn more about rare adverse vaccine side effects in dogs.
Rare Side Effects After Shots In Dogs
Rare side effects of a shot include collapse, coughing persistently, itchy hives, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty walking, swelling around the face and neck and difficulty breathing.
Take your dog to the vet immediately if it has any of these systems:
- Difficulty breathing
- Persistent coughing
- Breakout of red, itchy hives
- Swelling of the face and/or neck
- Diarrhea 
- Inability to walk
- Excessive drooling
- Bluish gums and tongue
Is It Normal for Dogs To Have Trouble Walking After Shots?
While it is normal for dogs to feel lethargic after a vaccination, it is not normal for a dog to struggle to walk after a shot.
An inability to walk is not a common side effect of a shot and can be an indication of an adverse reaction.
If your dog is having trouble walking after a vaccination, get to the vet and have your dog assessed. Prompt treatment of an adverse reaction can be lifesaving in the case of anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction.
Related: Why Is My Puppy Yelping After Vaccination?
How to Treat a Dog That Is Having Trouble Walking After Shots
A vet can diagnose the reason behind an inability to walk after shots and prescribe the best possible treatment. The most important thing you can do is treat the reaction like a medical emergency and get your dog to the vet.
One of the most dangerous reactions to a shot is anaphylaxis. It’s a life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention from a vet.
Treatment of Anaphylaxis
Vets will do everything to prevent or minimize the chance of dogs going into systemic shock.
Here are the steps a vet takes when dealing with anaphylaxis.
- Open the airway and place a breathing tube if necessary.
- Maintain blood pressure and circulation.
- Give fluids intravenously.
- Give the dog emergency drugs like epinephrine, corticosteroids, and atropine.
Some mild cases are treated with antihistamines, corticosteroids, and monitoring for 24-48 hours. However, you should never assume that a reaction is mild. A vet consultation can save your dog’s life.
How To Prevent Rare Shot Side Effects
Minimize adverse shot reactions by avoiding unnecessary vaccinations and only getting booster shots when your dog no longer has antibodies. You can also ask a vet for a preventive plan for adverse shot reactions.
Here are three ways to try to minimize the risk of severe shot side effects
- Avoid unnecessary vaccinations.
- Test for antibodies before booster shots.
- Work on a prevention plan.
1. Avoid Unnecessary Vaccinations
Avoid unnecessary vaccines by only having your dog vaccinated with essential or core vaccines and diseases they have a high risk of getting.
According to the Animal Health Foundation, not all dogs need all vaccines. While core vaccines are recommended and some mandated, noncore vaccines are not essential for all dogs.
Core Vaccinations for Dogs
The five core vaccines immunize dogs against the following diseases and illnesses:
- Adenovirus-2 (Hepatitis)
- Parainfluenza Virus (Dog Flu)
Non-core Vaccinations for Dogs
Vaccinations not on the list of core vaccines are non-core vaccines. If you live in an area where a certain illness is a high risk, vets in the area can add a relevant vaccine to the list of core vaccines for that region.
Here are some examples of noncore vaccinations:
- Bordetella bronchiseptica (Kennel cough)
- Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease)
- Influenza (H3N8 and H3N2)
- Crotalus atrox (Western Diamondback Rattlesnake)
2. Test for Antibodies Before Booster Shots
You can ask a vet to run a titer test to measure your dog’s antibodies to a specific disease before opting for an immediate booster vaccine.
If your dog still has sufficient antibodies, it can mean that your dog’s previous vaccination or natural immunity is still valid.
If a dog still has immunity, your vet can decide to delay a booster vaccine.
A titer test is a good idea if your dog has had a bad reaction to a vaccine in the past or to prevent over-vaccination when you don’t know the vaccination history of an adopted dog.
3. Work on a Prevention Plan
If you’re worried about a possible side effect or your dog has had an adverse reaction to a shot before, talk to your vet about a prevention plan.
A vet can prescribe antihistamines to take before vaccination to help minimize the shot reaction.
Tell the vet about a previous shot reaction, including the vaccine manufacturer and batch number that caused the reaction. If your dog does require a booster, a vet can advise on a different product to use.
A vet can keep your dog for 30 – 60 minutes to observe for immunization reactions.
When to See A Vet
Always contact your vet if your dog is having trouble walking after a shot. Rush your dog to a vet if it collapses, starts swelling around its neck and face, develops itchy hives, vomits or has diarrhea, and has difficulty breathing after a shot.
It’s not unusual for dogs to need rest and eat less after shots. These expected mild reactions to vaccines should only last 24 hours though.
If your dog is lethargic, refuses food, or has a low-grade fever for more than 24 hours, contact your vet for advice.
Get your dog to a vet immediately if it:
- Has a persistent cough
- Develops hives
- Develops swelling in the face
- Experiences constricted breathing
- Develops diarrhea
- Can’t walk
These can be symptoms of a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction to an ingredient in the vaccine.
Most vets will tell you that the risk of a dog contracting a deadly disease outweighs the side effects of the vaccine itself. However, they can’t tell you if your dog will have a bad reaction to a shot or not.
The best thing you can do is avoid unnecessary shots, space out the timing of shots, speak to your vet about testing for antibodies before considering booster shots and act quickly should your dog react poorly to a shot.
It’s vital to monitor your dog after a vaccination, know what to look out for, and contact a vet if you have any concerns.