Like all of us, we learn as we go.
I've been lucky with YoYo, but I admit my biggest mistake was taking the word of my first veterinarian and not educating myself about vaccines before walking into the vets office.
Not taking the word of my veterinarian, you ask? Yes, that's right. Because not all veterinarians are created equal, not all follow the same vaccination schedules, not all recommend feeding the best food, not all are right for your dog; and not all veterinarians carry the same philosophy of the kind of life you want your dog to live.
Over the few first years of having YoYo, I learned more and more; and one of the big ah-ha moments was when I learned about the practice of over vaccinating pets. As I was able to learn quickly, I was able to apply a healthier vaccination program for YoYo fairly early in his life.
There's the rub. Who do you trust, who's advice do you follow?
We're here to help, and to share what we've learned over the years. We've faced making important decisions about vaccinations with our new puppy, Rach, just in the last month.
With the information we are sharing here, we hope that you will also become more informed to help you make healthier decisions for your dog.
Firstly, let's talk about what the law says and what governing organizations recommend for vaccines for dogs...
Over the years the Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has revised their vaccination guidelines for core (Rabies (may vary for adult dogs according to state law), Distemper, Parvovius, Adenovirus) and non-core (Bordetella, Parainfluenza, Lyme, Measles, Leptospirosis, Coronavirus) vaccines for dogs as more and more information has become available. The best part is that as they have revised their vaccination guidelines, they have actually revised them to include less vaccines for dogs, as well as, vaccines less often, in some cases.
Current AAHA recommendations include:
Canine Distemper, Canine Parvo & Canine Adenovirus:
- In puppies < 16 weeks of age. Starting at 6 weeks, vaccinate every 3 to 4 weeks (6, 10, 14 or 8, 12, 16 weeks) up to 14 or 16 weeks; final shot should be given between 14 and 16 weeks to minimize risk of maternal antibody interference. Initial vaccination in dogs > 16 weeks of age. One dose.
- For puppies who received initial vaccination series by 16 weeks, a booster no later than 1 year after completion of initial series, then ≥ 3 years thereafter.
- For dogs who received initial vaccination after 16 weeks of age, every ≥ 3 years thereafter
- Notes: Among healthy dogs, distemper vaccines are expected to induce immunity for at least 5 years.
- Initial vaccination in puppies < 16 weeks of age. One dose not earlier than 12 weeks or as required by law. Initial vaccination in dogs > 16 weeks of age. One dose.
- Revaccination - For all dogs: annually as required by law
- Initial vaccination in puppies < 16 weeks of age. One dose not earlier than 12 weeks or as required by law Initial vaccination in dogs > 16 weeks of age. One dose.
- Revaccination - For all dogs: within 1 year of initial dose regardless of age at time of initial dose, then every 3 years thereafter as required by law
You can ask 15 different veterinarians and you may get 15 different recommendations for what vaccines to give to your dog. The AAHA recommendations are just that, recommendations and guidelines. Non-core vaccines are recommended at the discretion of the individual veterinarian.
Notable researchers and advocates believe, as we do, that over-vaccination for dogs in this country is a problem.
For example, the AAHA has recognized (see sources) that immunity lasts at least 5 years for distemper and parvo, and at least 7 years for adenovirus.
So why provide these vaccines every three years or even annually?
Dr. Richard Ford, a DVM who is on both the AAHA canine vaccination task force and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) feline vaccination advisory panel believes, based on feedback from vaccine manufacturer sales reps, that 60 percent of veterinary practices are still re-vaccinating on an annual rather than every 3-year basis. "Some acknowledged the reality and changed their protocols, while others, fearing loss of a major source of revenue, argued against anything other than the time-honored paradigm: annual boosters," said Ford.
In addition, many laws in this country (depending upon your state) require rabies either annually or every three years. However Dr. Ron Schultz and Dr. Jean Dodds, who lead the Rabies Challenge Fund believe that rabies vaccines hold immunity in dogs for 5-7 years (or even longer) and they are working to prove this fact in the hopes that their study data will concretely determine the duration of immunity and allow laws to be changed for the health of our dogs.
Not until the mid-2000's was there a way for individual dog lovers to report problems their dogs encountered with vaccines. When reporting became more organized it allowed for more information to be available to both veterinarians, organizations and individuals in the dangers of over vaccination.
Over the years many vets and dog lovers have seen acute, often immediate adverse reactions to vaccinations, but have also seen long term health consequences for dogs from over vaccinating including experiencing symptoms from fever and hair loss, to lameness, hives, allergies, respiratory illness, to more severe symptoms of vaccine injection site sarcoma, thyroiditis, seizures and more.
Vaccines are a necessary and important part of our lives and our pets lives, but over vaccinating can be harmful.
So what do you do?
Now that we have new puppy, Rach, we've created a plan for his vaccines that we are sharing here:
- Rach is a rescue, adopted at 12 weeks. So all the medical care that he experienced before 12 weeks was beyond our control.
- At 6 weeks (under the care of the rescue) he received: Distemper, Parvo, Adenovirus, Parainfluenza (combined) vaccine.
- At 9 weeks (under the care of the rescue) he received: Distemper + Parvo (combo) and Bordetella vaccines and Virbantel for worms.
Many of the more holistic veterinarians we follow (including those at the University of Tennessee and those here in the Atlanta area, Dr. Jean Dodds and Dr. Ronald Schultz) believe that the mothers immunity overrides pretty much any vaccine you provide to your puppy before the age of 12 weeks. Our vets at UT know that a dog's mothers immunity they receive from mothers milk is gone by the age of 16 weeks.
So those DAP shots that he received before 12 weeks may not be effective. So Rach received another round of Distemper and Parvo vaccines at 16 weeks. If we would have had control of Rach's vaccinations from the very beginning we would have only given him two rounds at 9-12 weeks and again at 16 weeks. As that would have been all for him to be protected for DAP.
After one year, we will begin doing titers for DAP, at one year and then every 3-5 years after that to make sure he has the antibodies within his body to fight any exposure.
What is a titer?
Antibody titer is a laboratory test that measures the level of antibodies in a blood sample induced by previous vaccinations. If the levels are satisfactory, the patient (in this case your dog) is considered to have “protective antibody” and is considered to be “sufficiently immune” to the disease, and doesn't need another vaccine.
While titers are much more expensive than vaccinations, (example: our recent rabies titer test was $170 per test, and our distemper+parvo titer test was $130 per test for YoYo and Gracie) utilizing titers instead of vaccinations is much healthier for your dog, now and long term. And with this, can save you a lot of money in vet bills over the life of your dog.
More about rabies vaccines.
When it comes to rabies vaccines, Dr. Ron Schultz gives the first vaccine after 4 months of age, re-vaccinates in a year, and then again in 3 years and every 3 years thereafter. In other words, he follows the law for 3-year rabies vaccines, even though he doesn't believe a vaccination every 3 years is necessary for immunization.
When it comes to rabies we will be following the law. In our state of Georgia, rabies is required at 12 weeks, then a one year rabies vaccine at one year, then the following year we will begin a three year rabies vaccine every three years. It is our hope that in Rach's lifetime that the work of Dr. Schultz and Dr. Dodds will showcase that rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats is not necessary as often as three years and the laws will be changed accordingly.
Here's a little information as an example of a rabies law in one of the states in the US, our state Georgia (to find your rabies law information for your state, simply perform a Google search):
- Unvaccinated dogs, cats, and ferrets exposed to a rabid animal should be euthanized immediately. If the owner is unwilling to have this done, the animal should be placed in strict isolation for 6 months. Isolation in this context refers to confinement in an enclosure that precludes direct contact with people and other animals
- A healthy dog, cat, or ferret that bites a person should be confined and observed daily for 10 days (26); administration of rabies vaccine to the animal is not recommended during the observation period to avoid confusing signs of rabies with possible side effects of vaccine administration. Such animals should be evaluated by a veterinarian at the first sign of illness during confinement. Any illness in the animal should be reported immediately to the local health department. If signs suggestive of rabies develop, the animal should be euthanized and the head shipped for testing as described in Part I.A.8. Any stray or unwanted dog, cat, or ferret that bites a person may be euthanized immediately and the head submitted for rabies examination.
- Vaccines used in state and local rabies control programs should have at least a 3-year duration of immunity.
As a matter of fact even states that don't allow medical wavers, will consider recommendations from vets if they believe a dogs health will be compromised by giving them a rabies shot. In these cases, vets can take a titer and apply to the state for a medical waiver. That's what we are doing for our Gracie, who is currently battling a fungal infection from all the rain we've received here in the mountains.
We hope this information is helpful to you in making more informed decisions regarding vaccinations for your dog!
If you'd like to read more about the history of vaccinations for pets you can visit these pages: 2000, 2003, 2011,
Additional good sources of information include:
Dr. Karen Becker
Dr. Jean Dodds
Dr. Ron Schultz
Photos courtesy of: PatchAttack, M@CK and Joe Futrelle