Pet Vaccination – How Much Is Too Much?

Back in 2003, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) revised vaccination guidelines, recommending veterinarians to vaccinate adult dogs every three years instead of annually and many veterinarians have changed their protocols in respect to the new guidelines. The change was implemented after experts agreed with the overwhelming evidence showing annual vaccinations for canine diseases were unnecessary and harmful. It behooves the pet owner to avoid veterinarian service providers who recommend, and even demand, annual vaccines. There are many veterinarians who choose to ignore the guidelines as they don’t want to lose the income these booster shots bring in every year. Another veterinarian service pet owners should avoid are those provided in a parking lot or pet supply store where you and your pet are without the benefit of a relationship with the veterinarian providing the inexpensive service. Your pet may pay the price of inappropriate or unnecessary veterinarian care. Vaccinations are a major stress to your pet’s immune system and can cause side effects and allergic reactions as well as long term chronic disease such as skin allergies, arthritis, leukemia, upper respiratory infections, irritable bowel syndrome, and neurological conditions as aggressive behavior, epilepsy, auto-immune disease and cancer. It is common today for veterinarians to see sicker dogs and cats at a much younger age. Pets as young as 5 years of age are diagnosed with cancer and auto-immune disease is also on the rise. Combine over-vaccination with poor nutrition, poor breeding practices and environmental stresses and your left with generations of pets who are susceptible to chronic disease and congenital disorders. Yearly veterinary checkups are imperative for your pet as this provides them with a strong health baseline, helps pet owners recognize subtle changes in their pets over time, as well as develops a relationship between your veterinarian, you and your pet.

It is best to prepare yourself for your dog’s annual veterinary visit. Be ready to discuss the best vaccine strategy for your pet by bringing veterinary records of your pet’s vaccine history with you. Don’t assume the clinic will have the most recent information on hand and this is more imperative if you’ve changed veterinary clinics. Include all test results such as heartworm, antibody titer, blood and/or urinalysis. Have a clear idea whether you want or need your pet to receive any vaccinations for which diseases and ask your veterinarian if any particular vaccines are necessary due to conditions in the area you live in. Consider the risk. If your pet is indoors only and is never exposed to unvaccinated animals, then the risk of infection is low. Educate yourself so that you can have an intelligent conversation with your veterinarian concerning the good and bad of vaccinating your pet. Know your pet’s health; whether he has health or behavioral issues that your veterinarian should be aware of and bring a list of any medications or supplements your pet is taking along with dosage, strength and frequency. The decision to vaccinate your pet or not is very individual and should be based on extensive research before you go to your veterinarian. If you are seeing a veterinarian for the first time, it is a good idea to make an appointment to see him without your pet to discuss his philosophy toward vaccinations and other tests such as the antibody titer test. A “titer” is a measurement of how much antibody a certain antigen is circulating in the blood at that moment. A dog displaying a positive antibody titer test result is considered protected from the disease for which the vaccine is intended and does not need vaccines at that time. Never vaccinate a pet whose immune system is compromised with an infection as the vaccine might distract the immune system from handling the infection and create the likelihood that the vaccine may not produce protective immunity.

Should you choose to vaccinate your pet, consider asking your veterinarian to perform a health exam and other tests first then wait for the results. If your pet is in good health, schedule a follow-up vaccine visit. Avoid multiple vaccines in one or combination vaccines; if this is the only option available, look elsewhere. Don’t vaccinate your pet more than every three years. Some vaccines such as Lepto, Bordetella, or Lyme do not last more than one year however consider whether these diseases are heightened in your area before vaccinating your pet. Schedule these vaccines separately from the rabies vaccine if your pet needs them and administer them in another part of the body. Vaccine programs must be designed to each animals specific needs, not the masses. You need to figure the dog’s age, environment, activities, lifestyle and previous adverse vaccine reactions, if any, in the equation. Do not vaccinate puppies and kittens who are younger than 12 weeks of age as their immune systems are very vulnerable to the stress of the vaccine. Keep puppies and kittens safe from exposure by avoiding pubic areas such as parks and pet stores. Vaccinate puppies between the age of 12-15 weeks for parvovirus and distemper and wait until after they are 6 months old before vaccinating for rabies. For kittens, one Panleukopenia combination (FRCP) and, if available, have the vaccine administered separately spaced three to four weeks apart. Consider the lifestyle and environment of your cat; if he goes outside and you have rabies in your area, vaccinate him at 6 months of age. Feline leukemia and FIP vaccines may not be necessary for your cat. Keep in mind that legal requirements vary from state to state. Studies show that a single vaccination for parvovirus, distemper and panleukopenia provide long-term protection and a simple blood test will revel if antibodies levels remain high enough to resist infection therefore a “booster” is not needed. Vaccines do not need “boosting”. Unless diseases are locally endemic or if a specific kennel has contracted Bordetella, corona virus, leptospirosis or Lyme, veterinarians do not recommend vaccinations. The leptospirosis vaccine is generally not useful because the currently licensed leptospira bacterins do not have the serovars which cause leptospirosis today. An alternative homeopathic method used by pet owners choosing not to vaccinate are Nosodes which can be used on animals younger than three months of age if the animal is at risk. These homeopathic medicines help protect pets against Parvovirus, Distemper, Kennel Cough, Panleukopenia and FIP. Though some nosodes work more effectively than others, they are not vaccines and do not produce titers against these diseases but seem to offer some protection in the severity of illness if the pet has been exposed even if they don’t prevent the disease.

When it comes to vaccinating your pet, educate yourself. You are your pet’s guardian and the decision is yours, not your veterinarians, nor should it be. You are responsible for the care of your companion; give them the best by researching and very carefully weighing decisions about their healthcare.