To Vaccinate Or Not To Vaccinate Your Pet: That Is The Question

Dr. Garden

By Teresa Garden, DVM 

Vaccines can be life-saving medicines. But, like all medicines, they should be used only when necessary. The revaccination needs of adult dogs should take into account your individual pet’s risk of exposure, geographical location, and life style factors. 

Vaccines are not innocuous products. The questions regarding benefits versus risk needs to be addressed in each pet before vaccination and booster vaccination. The question if a booster vaccine is really needed deserves to be answered honestly and based on scientific data. Immunological memory provides duration of immunity for core infectious disease, such as Distemper and Parvovirus, that far exceed the traditional recommendations for annual or even triennial vaccination. 

Once an adult dog has long term immunity there is little reason to give booster vaccines. Serum antibody titers can be measured as needed to determine if your dog is still protected against Distemper and Parvo. If the titer falls below a protective level then your pet can safely be given a booster. At Animal Health & Healing we have been performing annual antibody titer testing for the past 25 years. We have learned many dogs are protected well beyond the 3- year labeled use of the vaccines. Many of our patients have protective immunity lasting for 5 to 9 years. 

Vaccine protocols in our dogs should no longer be a “one size fits all” program. It has been documented vaccines can be contributors to immune mediated disease involving the skin, GI tract, bones, joints, blood, brain, and even behavior. Vaccines should be minimized or even avoided, if possible, in dogs battling allergies, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Immune-Mediated Anemia/Thrombocytopenia, or other immune mediated disease. If your dog no longer has protective immunity and must be immunized then the vaccine should be administered at the most optimal time for the dog. For instance, a dog suffering with allergies during the spring and summer may do better if the vaccine is given in the winter when the dog’s allergies are quiet. 

Genetic predisposition to vaccinosis has been well documented. These breeds include Weimaraners, Great Danes, Akitas, Standard Poodles, Vizslas, and Old English Sheepdogs. Published data show more adverse vaccine reactions when multiple vaccines are administered concurrently. This is certainly true for toy breeds. At Animal Health & Healing we have minimized these reactions simply by giving only one vaccine at a time. We do this for puppies as well as adult dogs. Vaccinosis can be prevented and treated with homeopathic remedies. We will typically give Thuja occidentalis for most cases. Homeopathic Lyssin is used to alleviate symptoms of vaccine-induced Rabies miasm. Steroids may be employed in more serious cases to decrease inflammation and clinical symptoms. These patients should not receive further vaccine boosters. 

Veterinarians have always been taught (and still are) that all dogs, regardless of size or age, require a full dose (1cc) of vaccine as the standard dose. Many veterinarians have been asking if smaller breeds and puppies should be receiving a smaller volume dosage since they are more at risk for adverse reactions and have smaller body weights. We would never give the same dose of antibiotic or pain medicine to a Chihuahua that we would to a Great Dane. Yet, both of these disparate breeds receive the same dose of a vaccine. A recent study was conducted and showed small breed adult dogs receiving % cc of vaccine developed good long-term immunity. Further research is needed to confirm these findings and to allow our profession to update vaccine protocols for optimal health of our pet dogs. In the meantime, caregivers are encouraged to watch their pet’s behavior and overall health after receiving a vaccine booster. 

Over-vaccination has no benefit on a pet’s existing level of protection against infectious disease. It actually increases the risk of adverse reactions due to repeated exposure to foreign substances within the vaccine. 

Vaccines should not be given to sick or febrile pets nor to any pet that has experienced a previous adverse reaction to that particular vaccine. And puppies should not receive any vaccines until they are 9 weeks old. Puppies that are allowed to nurse will have maternal antibodies that will protect them for the first 8 weeks of their lives. In my next article I will discuss core and non-core vaccines for dogs and which may be suitable for your dog. 

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. 314-781-1738.