An increase in many diseases afflicting our pets has brought vaccinations and vaccination protocols under scrutiny. This had led many owners and breeders to change from the standard vaccine protocol considered the safest and most effective for years to either vaccinating their animals less or even not at all.
But what is best for your pet? Knowledge is the first step and no, not for your dog. Dogs are smart but when was the last time you saw one crack a medical journal? Every owner should understand exactly what a vaccine is, how it works, what they are vaccinating against and the potential dangers or side effects associated with over vaccinating.
What is a Vaccine?
Vaccines are any preparation of killed or living weakened organisms introduced either by injection or orally into the body to produce an immune reaction causing the formation of antibodies. Antibodies are what a body needs to fight off or repel a disease entirely. The level of antibodies increases with each exposure to a particular disease. However, there are diseases out there you do not want your dog exposed to in order to develop the necessary resistance to the disease. Rabies is a good example. One exposure kills so although your dog would be immune to the disease if he were to be exposed a second time, it really does not matter because he is already dead from the first bout.
So how does a vaccine work if it exposes an animal to a disease but they do not actually develop the disease? Let’s use a common, non-fatal disease like the flu to explain the magic of vaccines – it is so much less confusing when the patient survives from exposure to exposure.
You are exposed to a bad case of viral flu and you spend a week thinking you will certainly die but, in fact, you do get better and better yet, you are now immune to that strain of flu. Your immune system has these amazing infection fighters in the bloodstream called B cells that are responsible for fighting off disease. These B cells have memory and retain memory of the various diseases we are exposed to throughout our life. If you were exposed to the same strain of flu virus again, your body would send off a quick attack of B-cells to fight off the disease before it could take hold.
Vaccines do the exact same thing but without causing the patient to suffer through the disease and stimulating the B-cells to produce the necessary antibodies and a memory of the disease or pathogen. The result is immunity.
In canine health, the recommended vaccination protocol begins at six to eight weeks old with vaccinating against distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, Leptospirosis and parainfluenza. Boosters are given at four-week intervals until the pup is sixteen weeks old and then given at one year intervals for the remainder of the dog’s life. At sixteen weeks old, the pup is also vaccinated against rabies with a booster in a year’s time and following boosters every three years from then on.
Some breeds such as Rottweilers and pit bulls are more susceptible to parvovirus then others so veterinarians often recommend an extra twenty-week vaccine of just that one disease. There are also other diseases that your dog can be vaccinated against such as lyme disease and Giardia.
Is it essential to vaccinate against all of these diseases? Not necessarily. It depends on what your pup will be exposed to throughout its life. A city dog that rarely puts paw to ground probably will never see a case of lyme disease never mind the deer tic that carries the disease and a country dog may never come in contact with distemper or coronavirus but you better expect them to come in contact at least once with rabies.
Location plays a significant part when deciding what vaccine protocol is best for your puppy or adult dog. Talk to your veterinarian about what diseases are a problem in your area and vaccinate accordingly. Remember, however, that if you, your dog may not be sufficiently protected against diseases in the new area.
‘Over-vaccinating’ is the new catch phrase but is there a problem with how much we are vaccinating our pets? Maybe. We vaccinate by a protocol, not whether the animal actually needs the added protection. What has become common in the last decade is measuring the titer levels of certain diseases within the bloodstream. Titer means the concentration of antibodies within the bloodstream for each specific disease. If the titer is high enough then no vaccine is necessary but if they are below the recommend levels for a disease, then that single vaccine is administered. This guarantees an animal is protected against a disease but is not running the risk of being ‘over-vaccinated’.
So what is this ‘over-vaccinated’ phrase? Immune-mediated responses are on the rise amongst our pets and vaccines are taking the heat for the increased incidence. Immune-mediated responses can mean in increase in allergies, cancer and autoimmune related disease. Although many believe the vaccines themselves are to blame, the more educated and possibly cautious among us believe the problem is the frequency we vaccinate. This takes us back to measuring titer levels so that we only vaccinate a dog when necessary, not because the yearly boosters are due.
Vaccines have saved far more dogs then they have ever put in danger. Anyone who has worked within the veterinary field or seen a litter of puppies whipped out from parvovirus knows how important vaccines are to health of our pets. Refusing to vaccinate a dog or cat is playing Russian roulette with their life and well-being. Always vaccinate but do so only when necessary – your pet will thank you for it by living a long and healthy life!