What Every Pet Owner Should Know About Vaccines

Categories: Vets, Vaccines & Medications
By Amy Wence

Recently I attended a seminar conducted by Dr. Lisa Kluslow (DVM) on canine vaccines & titers. Before attending the seminar, I knew very little about the subject. The seminar was enlightening to say the least. I learned much about current vaccine protocols, vaccination risks, what titers are and how they work. For those of you who were not able to attend, I would highly recommend signing up the next time Dr. Kluslow is available. She has a lot of knowledge to share and is a wonderful speaker. Dr. Kluslow is great at simplifying complicated subjects and presenting the  information in a manner that is both interesting and easy to understand. Many of us don’t think twice when it comes to vaccinating our dogs. They are our best friends and we want them to stay healthy, so vaccinating to protect against illness seems like an easy choice. However, it is not so black and white.

Not all vaccines are appropriate for all dogs. Furthermore, many vaccines do not need to be administered annually, as was thought. In fact, over-vaccinating can actually jeopardize a dog’s health. Vaccines can cause side effects such as: fever, lethargy, pain at injection site, skin problems, allergic reactions, and autoimmune disease. According to Dr. Ronald Schultz, professor and chair of pathological sciences in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UW-Madison, “These adverse reactions have caused many veterinarians to rethink the issue of vaccination. The idea that unnecessary vaccines can cause serious side effects is in direct conflict with sound medical practices.” (http://www.news.wisc.edu/8413) Additionally, it has been theorized that the most
common diseases of senior pets are caused by vaccination. These include: kidney disease, immune mediated disease, cancer, arthritis, and even allergies.

In 2006, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) revised its 2003 vaccination protocol guidelines to reflect new thinking in the field. In the new guidelines, the AAHA states that the revaccination intervals for the major viral diseases can safely be extended to 3 years for normal adult dogs. Below is a summary of the 2006 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines for the “core” vaccines, which are vaccines every dog should receive.

There are also “non-core” vaccines, which include: Parainfluenza (CPIV), Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough), Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme), Leptospira interrogans (leptospirosis) and  distemper-Measles (D-MV). The “non-core” vaccines are not appropriate for all dogs. These vaccines should only be given to dogs that are at risk of contracting the specific infections due to geographical location, local environment, or lifestyle. Discuss with your veterinarian whether your dog is at risk before vaccinating for the non-core viruses. Other factors that should be
considered before administering non-core vaccines is the severity of the illness you’re vaccinating against, the effectiveness of the vaccine, and risk vs. benefit. For instance, the leptospirosis vaccine is not effective in protecting your dog against all strains of the disease, and it has a higher rate of vaccine reaction. Therefore, some veterinarians
do not recommend this vaccine because the risks outweigh the benefit.

The following vaccines are not recommended by AAHA for any dogs: Parvovirus (CPV-2) killed, Adenovirus-1 (CAV-1), MLV and killed, Adenovirus-2 (CAV-2) killed or MLV-topical, Coronavirus (CCV) killed and MLV, and Giardia lamblia killed. To see the complete 2006 AAHA vaccine guidelines, please visit: http://www.aahanet.org/PublicDocuments/VaccineGuidelines06R evised.pdf.

Although, the AAHA guidelines are recommending a three-year interval for the major vaccines, there is evidence that the DOI (Duration of Immunity) is even greater than that. Challenge studies show protection even seven years after vaccination against some of the major pathogens. This is why titer testing is becoming a more popular alternative to routine vaccinations. Titer testing measures the level of antibodies against a specific virus and can determine whether or not the dog is protected. The science of titer testing is still new to the veterinary field and it hasn’t been perfected just yet. However, it is a healthier alternative than to vaccinate unnecessarily.
Vaccines may be a boring topic for a lot of dog owners, and you may feel it’s a subject best left to veterinarians. However, vaccines are something that every pet owner should become educated about. It’s important as pet guardians to be proactive so that you can work with your veterinarian to make informed decisions concerning your pet’s health. I think many of us are probably guilty of allowing our veterinarians to choose what’s appropriate for our dogs without fully understanding what we are agreeing to. Veterinarians are well qualified to care for our pets. However, different veterinarians have different perspectives.

Moreover, veterinarians often rely on our input to make important decisions regarding our dogs’ health. And, we  know our dogs better than anyone. We are obligated as pet parents to educate ourselves to ensure that our “best friends” receive optimal care. Together, you and your veterinarian can design a program that is tailored to the specific needs of your individual dog.

1. Canine Vaccines and Titers Seminar, conducted by Dr. Lisa Kluslow (DVM), August 9,2009
2. “Schultz: Dog vaccines may not be necessary,” by Ronald Schultz (professor and chair of pathological sciences in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UW-Madison), University of Wisconsin-
Madison News, March 14, 2003, http://www.news.wisc.edu/8413
3. “Vaccinations 101” by Lisa Rodier, The Whole Dog Journal, August 2008, Volume 11, No. 8 4. 2006 AAHA Canine Vaccine Guidelines, Revised, http://www.aahanet.org/PublicDocuments/VaccineG