Updated: Jan 22
Are you over-vaccinating your dogs?
So you’ve brought home a new pup. As the first thing any responsible pet parent would do, you take them to the vet for a check. More often than not, you’re immediately instructed to vaccinate the dog - and so you do. You don’t think about it much.
After all, humans also get vaccinated as kids right? But do we get vaccinated every year to prevent the same disease?
More often than not, we don’t even know the names of the vaccines given to your dogs or what their functions are.
It’s time to change that and think a little harder before putting anything inside your dog’s body that can not be taken out again! It is a minor medical procedure that has both benefits and risks. And by all means Vaccines are invented for the purpose of saving lives. So, let's understand them a little better.
How does a vaccine work?
Let’s understand what a vaccine is.
A vaccine is a biological preparation that is meant to give you active acquired immunity to a particular infectious disease.
It works by training the immune system to recognize and fight these viruses or bacteria.
So how does the body know what to fight?
The vaccine introduces the antigen molecules(A substance that causes your immune system to produce antibodies) of the pathogen(A microorganism that causes disease) so that the immune system can safely recognize it and make antibodies to fight them. This activity also helps the immune system remember this pathogen for the future through a process called “cell memory”.
That way, if that particular pathogen got into the body again, the immune system would immediately attack it and stop it from making the body sick.
Right! So we know that vaccines, when administered to a healthy body, at the right time, and in the right doses, can produce an immune response that will then be saved in our cell memories, which then will help us in the future when we come across that pathogen again.
Core vaccines vs non-core/optional vaccines
As the names suggest, core vaccines are those that medical experts believe SHOULD be given to pets.
According to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, core vaccines have been selected to be given to pets based on the risk of exposure, the severity of disease(usually life-threatening), or transmissibility to humans.
Canine Parvovirus - Attacks the digestive system
Distemper - Attacks the nervous system
Canine Hepatitis - Attacks the lining of blood vessels, kidneys, liver, lungs
Rabies - Attacks the brain and the spinal cord.
As for non-core or optional vaccines, they are not explicitly necessary but could be administered depending on the needs of the pet at hand, or the occurrence of these, in your geographical area.
Non-core or optional vaccines are:
Canine Cough Virus - It’s an upper respiratory tract infection
Canine Influenza Virus H3n8 And H3n2 - Its the Flu
Distemper-measles Combination Vaccine - Similar to human measles
Leptospirosis - Contracted via rat Urine / feces.
Lyme Disease - Contracted through Black-legged ticks.
The school’s guideline mentions that these diseases usually respond readily to treatment. It also states that these vaccines don’t do a great job of protecting the dog from these diseases compared to the core vaccines.
These core and non-core vaccines are often recommended to be given annually too, which begs the question: are we over-vaccinating our pets?
There are no benefits of annual vaccination, study finds
According to a study conducted by Dr Ronald D Schultz, a veterinary immunology researcher at the School of Veterinary Medicine, Wisconsin - we could be over-vaccinating our pups and dogs.
Dr Schultz, who has been studying the subject for over a period of 40 years proved that most dogs are protected for life if not for many years by just one round of core vaccines they receive as puppies after 16 weeks of age. This is almost 4 months old! The vaccine protocols we follow today have been debunked decades ago by him. You can watch him talk about his research here.
The study also featured on Dogs Naturally, It explained that the study conducted on over 1,000 dogs, by Dr Schultz found that there were absolutely no benefits of annual vaccinations. In fact, he said that vets may be placing the dog at serious risk by giving an unnecessary vaccine.
Dr Schultz’s findings have prompted the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) and AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) to re-evaluate their vaccine recommendations around 2003. A whopping 30+ years after he discovered this! This is how long it takes for the law to change/amend AFTER science proves it.
Additionally, World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have also publicly accepted that annual vaccination is unnecessary and can potentially harm your pet.
“Misunderstanding, misinformation and the conservative nature of our profession have largely slowed adoption of protocols advocating decreased frequency of vaccination’; ‘Immunological memory provides durations of immunity for core infectious diseases that far exceed the traditional recommendations for annual vaccination.“ - Dr Shultz.
“This is supported by a growing body of veterinary information as well-developed epidemiological vigilance in human medicine that indicates immunity induced by vaccination is extremely long-lasting and, in most cases, lifelong.“ - Dr Shultz.
Understanding the risks involved in with vaccination
Vaccinating your dog without understanding the full picture can cause some serious issues for your dog which can sometimes even be fatal. These risks or ill effects are called vaccinosis.
According to Dr Schultz, common reactions include reactions such as lethargy, hair loss, soreness and stiffness, loss of appetite, fever, conjunctivitis, sneezing, or oral ulcers and skin reactions ranging from mild rashes to eczema-like conditions.
Moderate reactions can range from lameness, changes in behavior, vitiligo, hives, and respiratory diseases to abscesses, weight loss, and Blue Eye among others.
Severe reactions can include arthritis and polyarthritis, thrombocytopenia, an enhanced disease that the vaccine is meant to prevent, inflammation of the heart to seizures among others.
You can check out the full list here.
So should you not vaccinate your dogs at all? Not the case
Dr Schultz, in his study, points out that core vaccines or the ones that protect dogs from life-threatening diseases are necessary, but they aren’t recommended to be given every year.
“With the exception of rabies, the vaccines for CDV, CPV-2, and CAV trigger an immunological memory of at least seven years,” he says in his study. And this number of 7 years is not representative of how long the immunity lasts, it is representative of how long the study has been conducted. It's more than likely that the immune response is lifelong - he says.
We, as babies and toddlers receive vaccines for a particular illness once in a lifetime to prevent it, why would it work differently for dogs? The principle of triggering an immune response remains the same with both our species.
The duration of immunity for rabies shots last up to 3 years, he mentions. Rabies is 100% fatal to dogs, with no treatment available. Prevention is key. However, one must evaluate the risk of exposure along with this also while taking re-vaccination decisions. IS your geography prone to rabies incidents? Is it prevalent? How many recorded rabies caused deaths have there been in the past year? IS YOUR DOG AT A REAL RISK OF BEING BITTEN BY A RABID DOG IN THEIR DAY TO DAY LIFE?
In case of exposure to rabies - i.e. a bite from an unknown dog, a post-exposure line of treatment is just the responsible thing to do, and pet parents should not cause a delay in taking the necessary actions.
Non-core vaccines, if you remember, don’t last this long - but, not all dogs would be exposed to these pathogens. If vaccinated irresponsibly(read too frequently) however, they would face the brunt of its reactions.
He suggests that vets should make the decision based on the individual dog. And NOT apply blanket solutions to every dog that walks in. This would involve taking the time to talk to each family about their lifestyle and their routines, and the areas in which they frequent with their dogs for walks. And based on this detailed understanding choose what may or may not be needed.
But this practice would require for the vaccines to be available as individual vaccines.
A second and important benefit of having individual vaccines is that we can immunize for a single disease at a time without overloading the system. We can take weaker animals into consideration, and do it slowly for them to help them build an immune response, instead of overloading their already weakened constitution. Unfortunately, the push back will have to come from pet families repeatedly asking and insisting on single vaccines for the Pharma companies to take notice. But it's a battle worth fighting.
Vaccines have exceptional benefits, he says, but they also have another side that we need to be careful with.
Vets can instead check a dog’s immunity to determine if the vaccinations are needed through Titer tests. Know more about Titer tests here.
What is the correct time to vaccinate your dog?
Dr Schutlz says that dogs should not receive any vaccinations before they are 16 weeks of age provided you're keeping them in a protective environment. Before this, their immune systems haven’t matured yet and maternal antibodies that the pup receives as a fetus and through the breast milk could block their immune systems from responding accurately.
Vaccinating your dog is an important process of caring for them, but following protocols blindly can do more harm than good.
You can download a printable PDF created by DogsNaturally that you can take with you to have a conversation with your vet BEFORE you decide to vaccinate the dog for the first time, or annually.
Download HERE - https://s3.amazonaws.com/dogsnaturally/Vaccines-DNM.pdf.
Hope This article has given you some food for thought, some direction for further research, and some insight into the areas that really, we as loving caring pet parents need to look into for the safety and well being of our beloved dogs… and cats!
Here is Barfi’s Story to leave you with a real sense of how real this can be. And how close to home this is! Most people who have followed me, or Barfi our Doggiliciouus have read about how Barfi came into my house. Like all responsible pet parents I took him to the vet after he had recovered from his initial bout of infections to get a clean bill of health. And during this visit, the topic of vaccinations came up. I asked about Single Vaccines. And was promptly told that the only single vaccine is the Rabies vaccine. I then went on to enquire about the other vaccines and found that a vaccine called Puppy DP - which is a canine distemper and parvovirus is available as a combination vaccine, but is only meant for 6-week old puppies and not for 3-month-old pups, and it's currently out of stock.
So we decided to save ourselves a repeat visit and give the rabies vaccine on this particular day, as he was over 3 months old and had been off his mom’s milk over about 3 weeks - so her antibodies were not likely to interfere with the immune response his body would generate at this time.
By the time we got in the car and drove about 10 minutes towards home, Barfi had started flaring up. His eyelids had swollen and had red rashes all over his body and looked visibly distressed with what he was feeling.
We turned around and drove straight back to the vet, and said the only logical thing there is to say. “I think my puppy is reacting to the vaccine” We were told that there is no such thing and that he is genetically predisposed to an autoimmune disorder, and that is what is causing this.
They then wanted to give him steroids - which is an immunosuppressant. Which I promptly refused. After much discussion, we settled on a mild antihistamine. And were sent home with more steroidal creams and pills in a prescription (that I never purchased)
As a result of that vaccine, Barfi never got any other vaccines - because SINGLE VACCINES are not yet available in India.
And because of that one vaccine - we spent a whole year treating his immune system and his skin, with food, with herbs, and with antioxidant ingredients.
The intent behind this story is not to scare you, although it is scary.
It is to show that, not only does this happen, it can happen at any time, to any dog. And there is no predicting it. What has been shown, thanks to the relentless work of Dr Schultz is that there are definite adverse effects to over-vaccinating, and annually vaccinating your dogs and that there are no benefits.
So the intention is to spread awareness, and encourage research, and increase knowledge amongst fellow pet moms and dads because it breaks my heart to see others like Barfi suffering when it is entirely avoidable.
Co-Authored by and researched by Kaunvo.com