Dear Dr. Fox:

I was surprised to see a question about rabies vaccinosis in dogs. My 7-year-old spayed bichon frise might have had a very serious reaction to her recent rabies shot.

When I took her for her physical, heartworm test and rabies shot, she was in perfect health, except for cataracts that have progressed. Within 48 hours, she was unbearably itchy, and I noticed her skin was bright red with some hives.

I started her on Claritin, and the next day she had colitis with mucus and diarrhea. Six days after the shot, she had projectile vomiting and couldn’t even hold down water. The next morning, I took her to the vet, and he did a blood panel. It came back perfectly normal. The vet started her on Claritin and metronidazole, but she continued to get worse.

Nine days later, she started passing blood in her urine. Urinalysis showed no bacteria or infection and no crystals or sign of stones. My vet immediately started her on prednisone.

We put her on a diet of boiled chicken with baby rice cereal, but she stopped eating for two days. She responded slowly to the prednisone. The vomiting stopped, and her appetite started to return, but the red skin and hives persisted a bit longer. I am tapering her off the prednisone and metronidazole and hope to have her off both within 10 to 14 days.

I have no complaints with my vet. He said it might be vaccinosis from the rabies vaccine, but there is no way to be sure.

Three years ago, my dog had a lesser episode of severe itching with red skin and diarrhea that coincided with her previous rabies shot, but we had changed her diet at the same time and thought it was the diet change. Needless to say, I don’t want another reaction.

Do you think her symptoms point to a serious rabies shot vaccinosis reaction? I would appreciate advice on what I can do in the future to avoid giving her any further vaccines that could lead to an even worse reaction.

She has been relatively healthy, but she does have food sensitivities. I used Dr. Jean Dodds’ saliva/food sensitivity test because she had chronic colitis when she was young, and it came back saying she was highly sensitive to corn and had a milder sensitivity to wheat and milk.

More than two years ago, I put her on Wellness Grain-Free food, and she had no further colitis issues until this current rabies shot.

R.L., Ludlow, Mass.

DF: Your letter is important for many dog owners for two critical points.

Some dogs, especially those of certain breeds such as yours, seem especially prone to develop vaccinosis. The adverse reaction to vaccination can get worse when subsequent vaccinations are given, indicating a sensitization process that can culminate in anaphylactic shock or autoimmune disease.

Veterinarians can exercise their professional authority and discretionary responsibility by providing owners of dogs that have developed vaccinosis with a certificate saying that the animal would be at risk from further anti-rabies vaccinations and that the vaccination mandate should be waived.

For details, see my extensive review on adverse vaccine reactions on my Web site,

The other point that I have made for dogs with irritable bowel and similar severe digestive problems is linked to corn, most being genetically engineered, along with soybean and imported rice, which have no place in dog or cat foods.

unrefined palate

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 8-month-old Shih Tzu puppy likes to eat only poor-quality dog food. If I buy the food recommended by our vet, she turns her nose up at it.

I bought different brands of canned food to see whether she would eat it, and the one she prefers is Gravy Train beef and bacon. After doing research online, I found out that Gravy Train is considered a very poor-quality food. I mixed her Iams food in with the Gravy Train, and she wouldn’t eat it.

I talked to my vet about her finicky tastes, and he said to put the high-quality food in her bowl and quit stressing over it. “She won’t starve.”

I want her to be healthy. How can she go 24 hours without eating?

J.P., Lancaster, Pa.

DF: If your dog checks out in perfect health with the veterinarian, then the picky eating issue is probably psychological.

Many dog food manufacturers conduct palatability tests on certain ingredients that amount to a corporate goal of triggering the equivalent of food addiction, regardless of the nutritional value of the main ingredients.

Try making a gravy of the poor-quality food your dog prefers and the good food. Then back off and leave the dog alone. The more you fuss or stand there monitoring the dog, the more anxious she will become.

If she refuses to eat, put her food bowl away and offer it to her later. The food should not be chilled.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2013 United Feature Syndicate