As pet owners, we all know just how important vaccinating our dogs against certain diseases is. We should all know the big three – rabies, distemper, and parvovirus. But do you know how often you need to get your dogs vaccinated? Do you know about all the dangers of vaccines for dogs and how to prevent over-vaccination in dogs?
Sadly, there are vets that do a very poor job at educating dog owners on the dangers of puppy vaccines and teaching them how to prevent over-vaccination in dogs. There are even vaccines that many dogs are allergic to, yet a number of veterinarians stay quiet about this.
This article will cover the most important topics pet owners need to know about vaccines and vaccinating their puppies and adult dogs, and doing it safely. I will take a look at the current state of canine vaccine research and what science has to say about the danger of vaccinating puppies.
I strongly recommend you visit all these links I've added in this guide as they provide a lot more thorough and accurate information about puppy vaccines and everything about preventing over-vaccination in dogs, including most recent studies and scientific literature.
Science of Vaccinating Dogs
Vaccinology and vaccines are preparations that provide immunity for dogs against certain diseases. In the most basic sense, when a puppy is vaccinated, he receives a disease-resembling organism to stimulate his body's immune system and “teach” the dog's body how to fight those particular diseases in the future.
Effective veterinary vaccines are fairly recent as compared to human vaccines, but they're already making a huge impact on our canines' health and welfare, both good and bad. In the past decade, vaccines for dogs in particular have improved substantially and decreased the risk of vaccinations.
The most thorough scientific literature review of veterinary vaccines has been done by Els N. T. Meeusen el al., which you can find here – the team takes an objective look at the current state of canine vaccines and how vaccinating affect dogs as well as many other pets and animals.
The conclusion of this meta-review is that while some vaccines are essential for dogs to prevent future diseases, many other common canine vaccines still need further research and often result in a number of serious side effects in dogs. Moreover, it appears that veterinary vaccinology is more lax than human vaccinology, with many antigens used in vaccines kept as proprietary information and not disclosed:
“The use of adjuvants in veterinary vaccinology is much less restricted than that in human vaccines, and a large number of different types and formulations of adjuvants are currently used in licensed veterinary vaccines, compared to only three adjuvants licensed for human vaccine use.” [Clin Microbiol Rev. 2007 Jul; 20(3): 489–510. PMID: 17630337]
Therefore, it's important for pet owners to be aware of all the potential dangers vaccines can cause to their puppies or adult pets, and exactly how to prevent over-vaccination in dogs.
Vaccinating All Dogs – Yay or Nay?
First of all, it must be noted that not all vaccines should be avoided.
The big three most popular vaccines for dogs – parvovirus, canine distemper and rabies – are extremely important and are proven to be safe. But what about all the other canine vaccines offered by our veterinarians all across the country without a second thought or consideration for side effects?
It turns out, not all vets are aware of the serious dangers vaccines can cause to dogs.
It's not surprising to me how many pet owners are confused about vaccinating puppies and how to prevent over-vaccination in dogs; it's a complex issue with a lot of misinformation out there. And believe it or not, it can be very easy to over-vaccinate your puppy. This can lead to a variety of health problems, some severe or even fatal.
If you aren't sure what's right for your dog, do a little bit of research before you go see your veterinarian. Start by reading through this guide as well as the linked studies and other articles I've pointed out about vaccinating puppies. Be open with your vet about your concern of over-vaccination in dogs, and discuss the options with them.
How to Prevent Over-Vaccination in Dogs
How often should you vaccinate your puppy?
Most of the time, your veterinarian will send you an annual postcard reminding you to bring Fido in for his yearly vaccinations. These vaccinations may include everything from rabies to Lyme disease.
However, several studies have shown that yearly vaccinations for a large majority of vaccines are not needed, and can put an unnecessary burden on your pet.
So what should you as a dog owner do in this case? Do the research yourself, as all good quality information is freely available. Start by taking a thorough look at the vaccines available and see which ones might be needed every year or every few years.
In the above linked study, scientists have shown that once an adult dog is vaccinated against certain diseases, including distemper and parvovirus, they have immunity for life.
Immunity for life makes yearly vaccines a burden on not only your wallet, but also on your pet's health. In this case, even a vaccine every three years is unnecessary. Forget about it.
However, most veterinarians will still recommend you proceed with these excessive vaccines. This may be because they are not aware of the modern studies and current research on puppy vaccines. Or maybe they provide vaccines as a business tactic to make money, or do it to avoid running other more expensive tests to check for canine diseases.
How do you know if your dog needs a vaccine?
So how can you prove your pet is still properly vaccinated? There's a thing called antibody titer test, and Dogs Naturally Magazine has published a great guide on how to use this antibody titer test.
Basically, antibody titer test will show the amount of antibodies in your dog's blood against certain diseases. It's a simple blood test that can usually be done at the clinic.
Antibody titer tests may be more expensive than a single vaccine, but it will be safer for your dog's health and cheaper in the long run. If your dog still has an appropriate amount of antibodies against the disease, then they don't need the vaccine booster. Simple.
What vaccines for dogs are out there?
In order to understand over-vaccination in dogs, you have to understand the different types of canine vaccines available. In addition to the biggest contenders I've already mentioned above, there are plenty of lesser-known puppy vaccines that your vet may suggest on your next visit.
Some of the better known, well-researched canine vaccinations may include vaccines for:
- Lyme disease (read a study here)
- Adenovirus or hepatitis (read a study here)
- Parainfluenza (read a study here)
- Bordetella (read a study here)
Your vet may offer a single vaccine that includes all of these in one shot, but your dog may not need them! Some diseases are rarer then others, and some will only be prevalent in certain areas. For example, Lyme disease is a disease spread only by ticks.
In most other states, the chances of getting this disease are very low. It's even lower if your dog spends most of his time indoors or walking on clear trails. In these cases, you dog doesn't need a vaccine!
Another example is the bordetella vaccine. Bordetella, or kennel cough in dogs, is a disease often transmitted in low quality doggy day cares, dog groomers, dog kennels and other similar “public” places. Generally, bordetella disease is not something your dog is likely to catch at home, or even when chilling at the dog park.
If you are attending a hygienic, well-ventilated kennel, it should be rare for your pooch to get kennel cough disease as well. If your vet is suggesting you give your dog a vaccine specifically for kennel cough every year but your pet spends all of his time at home or outdoors, you should have no qualms about giving them a polite but strict “no, thanks.”
The bottom line on this is to do your research and talk to your vet to see what vaccinations your pet really needs. This can help you to avoid over-vaccination in dogs, and avoid serious health issues and potentially fatal side effects for your canine.
Vaccine Side Effects
How will this affect your dog?
The biggest problem with over-vaccination in dogs are the possible side-effects that can occur. These can be mild (a rash, swelling or area pain) to severe (trouble breathing, seizures or arthritis) and sometimes even fatal, as I've indicated above.
Severe side effects from over vaccinating dogs may be very rare, but the more often you vaccinate your canine unnecessarily, the more risk he has for experiencing them.
One of the worst parts about vaccine side effects is that they don't always happen right after an injection. Some of the more severe side effects of over-vaccination in dogs can occur years later. This is because of the strain it can put on your pet's health over time.
Have a serious talk with your veterinarian
So, with all these things to remember, how do you take charge of your pets health? The first step is going to be talking to your veterinarian. They are going to be the one to recommend vaccines for your pet.
Before you even go to your vet appointment, prepare by learning as much as you can about canine vaccines. Look at scientific studies I have linked to above, and also do more of your own reading and researching. You can even print some studies to bring with you.
Make a list of your pet's previous vaccines, or even better, collect their medical records from a previous vet, the shelter, or breeder.
Having this information ready to go shows that you are serious about your pet's care, and it also shows you are knowledgeable on the subject of over-vaccination in dogs. When you and your pup head to the appointment, be prepared to be assertive, stern, and confident.
Remember, many veterinarians will push for vaccines.
Like I said, this is done for several reasons, but the biggest one is to avoid liability to their practice. Just be prepared to say no if you don't agree with any of the treatments, and remember that you can leave at any time. You can always find another veterinarian.
Whether for humans or animals, vaccines are a touchy subject in today's society, and with more scientific research emerging and it being freely available online, pet owners are becoming more skeptical and educating on this matter. Be one of them.
Don't forget that choosing to vaccinate your pet (beyond the standard puppy shots, first adult vaccines, and regular rabies vaccines) is a personal choice, and no one should make you feel badly for your decision, whichever way you choose to go.