To Vaccinate or not To Vaccinate; That is the Question (part 2 of 2)

by Teresa Garden, DVM

In the first article of this series we discussed the importance of vaccinating against life threatening infectious diseases and the vaccination protocols followed by Animal Health & Healing. In this article we will explore situations where vaccination may no longer be advised for a pet. Such conditions include pets already fully immunized, those suffering from chronic disease, and those who have had previous allergic or adverse reactions to vaccines.

Vaccine makers are in the business of selling vaccines. Drug companies may recommend their vaccines be administered annually-despite the fact independent research studies at veterinary universities have shown vaccines convey immunity from disease for many years. If pets continue to receive these vaccines on an annual basis, even though immunity is lasting for several years, this results in “overvaccination”. Overvaccination has been medically linked to an increase in cancer, allergies, epilepsy, immune-mediated thyroiditis, inflammatory bowel disease, and fear aggression. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia in dogs and vaccine-associated sarcomas in cats can be fatal results of overvaccinating. Overvaccination can easily be prevented by utilizing the latest research on vaccine duration to determine if or when to administer a vaccine. Performing antibody titer testing in pets already immunized will prevent overvaccination.

Vaccinosis is defined as a sickness or disease induced by vaccination. This type of illness usually occurs within 3-6 weeks of receiving a vaccine. It may manifest as a physical or behavioral change in the pet. Examples are chronic diseases such as ear infections or skin allergies flaring up within a few weeks after vaccination. Vaccines may also aggravate latent tendencies toward illness in the pet. At Animal Health & Healing we administer homeopathic remedies to prevent and treat vaccinosis. If vaccinosis is thought to have occurred in a patient then it is advised not to repeat the inciting vaccine.

Adverse or allergic reactions to vaccines may be associated with the disease antigen, the adjuvant, preservative, or a combination of any of these components of a vaccine. Symptoms of allergic reactions to a vaccine are facial or muzzle swelling, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, or a painful swelling at the injection site persisting for 3-4 weeks. Small breed dogs are at increased risk. Giving multiple vaccinations at the same time will increase risk. To minimize adverse reactions, your vet can give one vaccine at a time, use adjuvant-free vaccines if practical or available, and give vaccines subcutaneously instead of intramuscular. It is prudent not to repeat a vaccine if the pet has had an allergic reaction to it. Repeating the vaccine could result in a more severe or even life-threatening allergic reaction. If puppies have an allergic reaction to their DHPP vaccines, giving an antihistamine such as Benadryl may allow them to receive the vaccine safely in order to complete their immunization series.

Antibody titer testing is a simple annual blood test to evaluate if a vaccine is still protecting your pet from infectious disease. A positive antibody test result means the pet is still protected from disease and does not need to be re-vaccinated. If the antibody titer test result is low or negative then a booster vaccination is advised. Antibody titer testing is an accurate assessment of immunity against canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus, and feline panleukopenia (distemper). Titers are accepted by most kennels, groomers, doggie parks, and training facilities. Rabies titers can be performed but states do not accept them as an alternative to vaccination.
There is no perfect vaccine program. Vaccine protocols must be tailored to the specific needs of each individual pet, not to the masses. Your pet’s health, age, environment, activities, lifestyle, and any previous adverse vaccine reactions should all figure into the equation. This should be an open and frank discussion between pet owner and veterinarian. If your veterinarian is not open-minded to having this type of discussion and insists on annual vaccinations for multiple diseases, then consider taking your business elsewhere. The goal of vaccinating is to protect your pet from infectious disease. If giving a vaccine could diminish or compromise the health of your pet then that goal is no longer met. Veterinarians and pet owners together should be good stewards in preserving the health of our pet population.

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood/ Richmond Heights. AnimalHealthandHealing.com; phone: 314-781-1738.

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