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What Every Dog Owner Needs To Know About Dog Vaccination

By Dr. Andrew Jones

There are many questions about dog vaccines. Does your dog need yearly vaccines? What are the real risks of vaccination? What is a safe, advised vaccine protocol for my dog? Are there alternate options to conventional dog vaccines? In this article I will give you an understanding of what vaccines are, including the reasons for vaccination. I will highlight the new canine vaccine recommendations, along with the risks associated with vaccines. You will see some of the vaccine alternatives, along with my suggested vaccine protocol. Whether you choose to vaccinate your dog or not can have serious health implications; I urge you to completely read the article, discuss it with your veterinarian, and make an informed decision.

Vaccinations work by stimulating the immune system. The positive effect is to protect against infectious disease. When vaccines are given, they incite the immune system to produce something called ‘humoral immunity‘. Humoral immunity is essentially disease protection that is mediated or controlled by antibodies. If the body has had a previous encounter with a pathogen, the body makes ‘Opposite Invaders’ to circulate in body fluids. The ‘Opposite Invaders’ are called antibodies. These molecules attach to or otherwise disable invaders and prevent them from doing harm to the body.

The conventional approach in the past was to get annual ‘booster shots’, in the belief that vaccines only provided immunity for approximately one year, and that revaccination was required in order to boost or maintain a dog’s immunity. This was the advised protocol of veterinary associations for decades, and most veterinarians followed that protocol. Fortunately times have changed, and now recent American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) guidelines advise that all core vaccines are recommended every 3 years, with the 1 year Rabies being the exception. They have also stated that distemper virus, parovovirus, and adenovirus vaccine immunity lasts for at least 5 years; AAHA though still suggests that your dog is given the vaccine more frequently than the length of immunity. They advise giving 3 boosters prior to 16 weeks, vaccines at 1 year, then every 3 years thereafter. In many cases individual States or Provinces require rabies vaccine to be given prior to 16 weeks, boosted at 1 year, then every year thereafter.

Vaccines have a number of risks, and the AAHA report states that: “Vaccine adverse effects (AE’s) are underreported in veterinary medicine.” There are short term side effects which can last for up to 3 days, such as appetite loss, injection site pain, lethargy, unwillingness to walk/run, and fever. More serious sudden side effects include: vomiting, diarrhea, swelling of skin, seizuring, breathing difficulty and collapse. Then there are the immune related diseases, including immune mediated hemolytic anemia, immune mediated skin disease, vaccine induced skin cancer, skin allergies, arthritis, leukemia, inflammatory bowel disease, thyroid disease, kidney disease, and neurological conditions, to name a few. The reasoning behind this is that when a vaccine is injected, the immune system becomes ‘over-taxed’ and responds inappropriately. It may turn and attack itself, as in the event of an autoimmune disease, or even attack the site of the injection. We see the evidence clearly in cats with the incidence of injection site sarcomas, or with dogs, the worsening of inhalant allergies after vaccination. The list of potential problems is exhaustive.

More dog owners are now making the decision on whether or not to re-vaccinate their dog by checking their dog’s immunity level with antibody titers. These titers have become more standardized, and when measured at a particular level, will give a good indication if your dog has enough antibodies to be protected against canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus and rabies. Antibody titers are a great way to see if your dog is in need of revaccination following the puppy vaccine boosters.

The chief alternatives to vaccines are called homeopathic nosodes. A nosode is thought to carry a mirror image or reflection of the disease, or in other words the ‘molecular imprint’ of it. When the nosode is administered, it sensitizes the immune system and helps it prepare the body for the defense against that same disease, without actually being exposed to the full strength of the living disease. Nosodes are considered completely safe, with no side effects, but their effectiveness is questionable. Some dog owners report that they seem to offer some protection by reducing the severity of illness if your dog is exposed to these infectious viruses.

The vaccine regimen I suggest is based in my own research and experience in veterinary practice. Puppies only need a series of two vaccine boosters, one at 8 weeks then repeated at 12 weeks. I find the most critical time to prevent infectious disease is at this young age. In small puppies, I prefer to wait until 12 weeks. The traditional third booster in puppies is not necessary. If possible, delay giving the rabies vaccine until 6 months. Puppies should only be vaccinated for parvovirus (MLV – modified live vaccine) and Distemper (MLV). Only give bordetella (kennel cough) vaccines if going to a kennel or puppy class. Give rabies vaccine (KILLED) at 6 months.

I do not recommend vaccinations for corona virus, leptospirosis, lyme or giardia vaccines for dogs. The currently licensed leptospira bacterins do not contain the serovars (viruses) causing the majority of clinical leptospirosis today, so it is generally not a useful vaccine.

My current advice is to give booster vaccines at 1 year, then every 3 years until the age of 10. With the new research showing longer duration of immunity (5-7 years), you may not need to be re-vaccinating your dog for 5-7 years after the 1 year booster. Most of the infectious diseases are transmitted when dogs are young; the most important vaccines are the two boosters for puppies and the one year booster. Discuss this with your veterinarian prior to vaccinating your dog.

This issue of dog vaccination is fraught with controversy and an array of conflicting opinions. There are real benefits of vaccines, but also risks, from short term lethargy, to more serious disease such as autoimmune disorders. Fortunately organizations such as AAHA are now suggesting longer intervals between vaccines, but the number, and frequency of vaccines is still up for debate. Consider my suggested vaccine protocol, and learn as much as possible about vaccines and diseases in your area. Your veterinarian cannot make this decision for you, nor should they. It is your responsibility to make this decision for your dog. The best road to good health is feeding a diet rich in fresh foods, raw meats for the carnivores, fatty acid supplements, adequate exercise, lots of positive human interaction and avoiding disease.

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Topics: Dog Care, Dog Health, Pet Care, Pet health | 8 Comments »

8 Responses to “What Every Dog Owner Needs To Know About Dog Vaccination”


  1. Esther Says:
    April 27th, 2012 at 6:06 am

    While I agree with much of what you have stated about vaccination, I will disagree with the value of titers. While I do believe they have their place, the absense of a titer measurement does not conclusively mean there is no protection. If the antibodies are no longer required, they will eventually die off, but there are memory cells which lie in wait for another invader and can be in action within hours of being exposed to a virus. With young dogs/puppies, a titer taken 3 weeks after a vaccine will tell one there has been a response, and no further vaccines should be required.
    With one dog with vaccine-induced allergies and another that had such a severe case of Ataxia at the 12 week vaccine, I have spent a great deal of time researching this subject.
    For years I have questioned the validity of the yearly ‘shots’, as we humans do not get boosters every year.There has, to my knowledge,never been any scientific ‘proof’ that vaccines were ever required every year for our pets.The best we can all do is to research ourselves and question the pros and cons.

  2. Barb Says:
    April 27th, 2012 at 6:22 am

    I do my dogs pretty much the same way. I do an 8 week and 12 week core vaccination of the puppies but i do not do a yearly booster. Then i titer test at 3 years. I sure hope they get the rabies shot (Rabies Challenge) so we won’t have to get that for 5-7 years. That is a killer in my eyes. Will pass the article on to my dog buddies.

  3. Paul Says:
    April 27th, 2012 at 8:28 am

    I completely refuse to vaccinate any of my dogs at all. I cannot see how having chemical concoctions containing preservatives among other unnatural agent injected directly into the animal’s body can in any way be healthy. If they are fed well and are from healthy stock they do not get ill.

  4. Dottie Sinkler Says:
    April 27th, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Years ago I had a Toy Fox Terrier who had an almost fatal reaction following a rabies shot. Back then there were no allergy shots available for her and she almost died. Following that she never had a rabies shot and she lived to the ripe old age of 16 with no health problems whatsoever. She was strictly a house dog and when she was outside of the house she was always on a leash. However, in the “modern world” my dog gets all of her shots because they are required if she is boarded, if she goes to a play date, the apartment management requires shot updates so what can I do but keep her shots updated?

  5. Hector Pitre Says:
    April 27th, 2012 at 9:54 am

    My dog has a rash on her belly and she licks a lot and the skin is red.This only happens in the spring through the summer season,could this be caused by allergies? can there be any harm giving Reactine to my dog? Thank you!

  6. Peter Says:
    April 27th, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    I remember as a kid, nobody gave their dogs shots for anything. The animals did not have all the health problems we have today.

  7. Mr. Mousse Says:
    April 28th, 2012 at 3:55 am

    Why not give the Lyme vaccination? Does it not prevent the disease? I pull off deer ticks every day from my dogs, they are so abundant.

  8. Amanda Says:
    April 28th, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    To Paul, it’s not good feeding and healthy stock that prevents them from getting ill, it’s whether or not they come into contact with the viruses, bacterias or illnesses that determines whether or not they fall ill. These bacterias and viruses are transmitted in many ways including humans transferring it from their skin and clothes from one ill dog to a perfectly healthy dog. Many of these bugs can live dormant in the soil for years without you knowing about it. It is also dependant on where you take your dogs and what other dogs have been there. A vaccine is purely to expose your animals to safe levels of the vaccine so the body can build an immune response to the particular virus etc. The immune system then kind of stores it away like in a memory bank and when exposed to that virus again knows exactly how to treat it. My sister has a Tenterfield Terrier that is very sensitive to the Kennel cough vaccine and she asks for blood tests to check her immunity level before being vaccinated. Then if it is needed they give her an anti-histamine prior to the vaccination to help counteract the side effects she has to them. I never had my 8 year old bitch vaccinated for parvo-virus as all her brothers and sisters (her included) had the virus and were very ill. I lived in an area that was well known for parvo and was a common occurence for even healthy puppies and mature dogs to be struck down and die. I have however had her vaccinated for other diseases prevalent in our area. And Esther, humans are not vaccinated with yearly boosters as we do not expose ourselves to the level of risk that dogs do. Think about it for a minute…..we do not lay on the bare ground, eat bugs and unusual and in many cases unidentifiable ‘goodies’, we wash our hands after digging in the garden or going to the toilet etc, and we do not greet our guests in the same manner a dog would (thank the lord). Children and babies are vaccinated quite often until their anti-body levels are adequate as they tend to do some weird and unsanitary things. Research has shown that the timing of our booster is for the appropriate length of time that the shot lasts in the body. As dogs do things that constantly challenge the immune system it is more likely to strain the immune system and so the shot does not last as long. It’s common sense people, I don’t like the idea of putting my dogs through needles and with possible reactions every year but really….have you ever seen a dog suffer and die from parvo? I have and needles are nothing compared to what can happen to unvaccinated dogs. Sometimes you just have to accept that there are some things you really have to do to protect those you love. So many don’t vaccinate because of the expense and I get that but don’t get any kind of animal if you are not prepared for the expense.

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Dr. Andrew Jones, DVM
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