To Vaccinate or Not To Vaccinate… THAT IS THE QUESTION (PART 1 of 2)

by Teresa Garden, DVM

Controversy surrounds the issue of vaccinating our dogs and cats. Recent research at veterinary universities such as University of Wisconsin and North Carolina State University is showing vaccines are producing long term immunity in our pets. DHPP vaccines in dogs will last at least 3 years and sometimes lifetime; FVRCP vaccines in cats may be protective for 7 years; a 3 year Rabies vaccine is really protecting your pet for 5-7 years. At Animal Health & Healing we recognize the benefits of vaccinating against infectious diseases but strongly believe vaccines be used judiciously. Usage of a vaccine should be based on your pet’s level of health, general lifestyle, and risk for exposure to infectious disease. This is not just my own opinion as a holistic veterinarian, but put forth by leading scientists at well-respected colleges of veterinary medicine. The vaccination protocol Animal Health & Healing generally follows was developed by Colorado State University (CSU) Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

New guidelines stress the use of core vaccines as opposed to non-core vaccines. Core vaccines protect dogs and cats from severe, life-threatening diseases that have global distribution. Examples are DHPP for dogs, FVRCP for cats, and Rabies vaccines for both species. Core vaccines offer the highest benefit to risk ratio. The DHPP vaccine protects dogs from Distemper, Hepatitis, and Parvo viruses. A rational protocol is to give the vaccine at 8 weeks, 12 weeks, and 16 weeks of age and booster 1 year later. After that we advise a yearly blood test to measure antibody titers. Titer testing will show if the vaccine is still protecting the dog. This is safer than over-vaccinating. Over-vaccination can lead to a increased risk of immune-mediated diseases and may cause flare ups of chronic illnesses. Another core vaccine is FVRCP. This vaccine protects cats from Rhinotracheitis, Calici, and Panleukopenia viruses. It should be given at 8 weeks, 12 weeks, and 16 weeks of age and boostered 1 year later. Research shows it will last for 5-7 years at which time cats may be vaccinated again if they are at risk (outdoors, in catteries or foster homes). Puppies and kittens are given a 1 year Rabies vaccine at 4-6 months old. They can be given a “ 3 year” Rabies vaccine the following year. This “3 year” vaccine is actually protecting pets for 5-7 years but present state law requires boosters every 3 years regardless of medical research findings. With the exception of Rabies vaccination, the above vaccination protocols are based on the most current scientific studies available. Protocols are guidelines only and vaccines should still be tailored to each pet.
Non-core vaccines should be intended for a minority of pets in special circumstances. These vaccines are reserved for pets whose geographic location, local environment, or lifestyle places them at risk of contracting certain diseases. Examples of non-core vaccines for dogs are Lepto, Lymes, Bordetella, and Influenza. Bordetella is a commonly used non-core vaccine that protects dogs from kennel cough. Use only if your dog is going to a kennel, obedience class, or doggie park that requires it since this is not a life threatening disease. Therapy dogs and support dogs dogs are also often required to have it since they interact with the public on a regular basis. The intranasal form of the vaccine is preferred over the injectable. Studies have shown it is safer, more effective, and sets up immunity quicker. It’s duration of immunity is 12-13 months. Feline Leukemia vaccine is a non-core vaccine that is highly recommended by CSU for kittens at 12 and 16 weeks of age and then 1 year later. This virus is common and life threatening to our younger cat population. Natural resistance to the disease will usually develop by 1 year of age and can be very effective. If your cat is at risk (outdoors, catteries) it is advised to get boosters on this vaccine every 3 years. It is labeled as a 1 year vaccine but research studies have shown it offers protection for 3 years.
There are vaccines that were commonly used by the veterinary community until just recently. Vaccines for FIP, Giardia, and Coronavirus are no longer recommended. Lack of efficacy or a low benefit to risk ratio have caused them to fall out of favor. New vaccines arrive on the veterinary market almost every year. But, as we have learned, just because they are available does not necessarily mean they should be used.

Part 2 of this article will continue in the June 2011 issue. We will focus on adverse reactions to vaccines and the risks of over-vaccination.
Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood/Richmond Heights area. AnimalHealthandHealing.com; phone: 314-781-1738.

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