Lyme Disease Vaccine Side Effects in Dogs

Some potential side effects of canine Lyme disease vaccinations cause as much discomfort as the disease itself.
i Syringe and ampules for vaccination image by Olga Khopshanosova from

The presence of Lyme disease-carrying deer ticks in wooded areas of the northeastern United States is a concern for dog owners due to the disease's potential impacts on canines. While vaccines are now available, there is some question as to whether the side effects are worth the risk.

Develop the Disease Anyway

It takes time for the antibodies in vaccines to build up to effective levels in a dog's system. If the dog is bitten by an infectious tick before full levels of protection are developed, the dog could experience Lyme disease symptoms. Researchers at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine discovered that some dogs react to the vaccination by developing Lyme disease from the limited exposure in the antibodies.

Joint Pain

One of the earliest expressed symptoms of exposure to Lyme disease bacteria is joint pain. Because the vaccination itself essentially is a minor but controlled exposure to the bacteria in an effort to encourage the body to build up a resistance to a more substantial exposure in the case of a bite, some dogs will experience mild to moderate ache in their joint. While they cannot "tell" us they are hurting, visual observation of how slow they get up and lack of willingness to be physically active provides fairly accurate clues to the level of discomfort.

Develop Lameness

Unchecked Lyme disease causes lameness in dogs and other animals. Some dogs will have difficulty moving their limbs after being vaccinated with Lyme disease antibodies. For reasons not yet known, this vaccination-induced lameness tends to impact the front legs more significantly.

Kidney Failure

Known more specifically by veterinarians as glomerular disease when brought on as an immune system reaction to the presence of Lyme disease bacteria, this is the kidney's failure to efficiently process proteins because the immune system is overstimulated. It isn't necessarily complete failure of the kidney. According to the Mar Vista Veterinary Clinic website, it is an inappropriate loss of protein as the kidney performs its usual function. It can take years after the initial tick bite or exposure to the Lyme disease bacteria for the development of this condition to present itself symptomatically through unexplained weight loss. That's why veterinarians recommend dog owners who know their canine companion was bitten by a tick be regularly tested to monitor protein levels in their urine.

Different Types of Vaccine

According to the Vet Info website, there are three types of Lyme disease vaccines in use. Each works slightly differently from the others. The Fort Dodge vaccine actually injects dead Lyme bacteria into the dog's body to trigger the body into building up antibodies. The Merials' vaccine causes the dog's immune system to produce antibodies that attack the protein that ticks use to transfer Lyme disease bacteria from themselves to the bloodstream of the canine host. The third type of vaccine developed by the Intervet-Schering-Plough pharmaceutical company takes the prevention of the protein-enabled transfer one step further by producing antibodies that are designed to kill off the Lyme disease bacteria as well.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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