I recommend minimizing vaccinations and tailoring them to the individual animal, rather than relying on blanket protocols. The current annual vaccine protocol was never based on scientific studies. On the contrary, studies have shown that some vaccines given at four months of age or older will protect most dogs throughout their lifetime. It’s important to weigh the risks and benefits when considering repeatedly vaccinating.
Vaccinosis is an adverse reaction to vaccines caused by a disruption of the animal’s homeostasis and immune system function. It can manifest in many ways, both physical and mental, and the resulting damage is sometimes permanent. Over-vaccination plays a major role in vaccinosis, however, there’s significant controversy about this. It’s a condition recognized almost exclusively by the holistic veterinary community and not generally acknowledged by traditional veterinarians. I’ve personally seen a link between over-vaccination and several serious diseases including cancer, allergies and immune-mediated disease. In fact, in 1999 the World Health Organization (WHO) scored veterinary adjuvants (ingredients in certain vaccines) three out of four (four being highest) on a carcinogenic scale. Studies from Colorado State, Cornell and Michigan State have all shown that vaccines can also cause a hyperactive immune system.
“Vaccines themselves do not cause autoimmune disease, but in genetically predisposed animals they may trigger autoimmune responses followed by disease.”
Dr. Ronald Schultz – Veterinary immunologist dedicated to vaccine research
Today there are many pet caregivers under the impression that all vaccinations are harmful, and many have stopped vaccinating altogether. Many puppies are not receiving very basic puppy shots, and their exposure to diseases is not being limited during a critical phase of immune system development, leaving them susceptible to infection. All puppies should have limited exposure to other dogs until after their last set of puppy shots. Taking unvaccinated puppies to dog parks, doggie daycares or even coming in contact with other dogs or dog feces during a walk can put them at risk of contracting diseases. Distemper is currently on the rise and that is likely a result of the trend in foregoing vaccinations altogether.
I believe most puppies should receive only basic vaccinations for the most common and deadly diseases (parvo and distemper), and individual risk factors (environmental, breed specific susceptibility) should be carefully considered. WA State is currently experiencing an increase of rabies in its bat population, and as previously mentioned, distemper is on the rise in general. Clearly these diseases still exist in our society, but our desire to protect our dogs both from disease and the dangers of over-vaccination do not have to be mutually exclusive. A well thought-out vaccination program can help us to protect them from disease while reducing risks of adverse reactions.
Below you’ll find more information on different types of vaccines and why they’re important, or unnecessary.
Core (Basic) Vaccines for Dogs
Core vaccines are basic vaccines that protect dogs from severe, life-threatening diseases. Core vaccines for dogs typically include: canine distemper (CDV), canine parvovirus 2 (CPV-2), canine adenovirus 2 (CAV), and rabies. I prefer to consider each dog’s health status, age, and environmental and breed risk factors before recommending any vaccine program. For example, Rottweilers and Dobermans are statistically at higher risk of contracting parvo and rabies than other breeds. Some states have a higher incidence of rabies, and many states have laws requiring rabies vaccination. Canine distemper and canine parvovirus 2 (CPV-2) are serious, and often deadly diseases that I recommend (healthy) puppies/dogs be vaccinated for. Although there is a high tendency in conventional veterinary clinics to use one vaccine protocol (and dosage levels) for all dogs, it is not in the best interest of the dogs. Belying logic, this one-size-fits-all vaccine protocol results in a 12-year old Chihuahua weighing 5 lbs., and a 2-year old Great Dane weighing 150 lbs. receiving identical vaccine doses. These dogs will also receive identical vaccines without consideration of their individual needs and risk factors. The promise to “first do no harm” (part of the Hippocratic Oath) is a fundamental belief ingrained into (all) doctors that, no matter the situation, our primary responsibility is to the patient. However, many animals suffer unnecessary, and sometimes life threatening side effects of over-vaccination because yearly booster vaccines are a big money maker for clinics, and vaccine programs are not tailored to the individual pet. Both veterinarians and pet caregivers are responsible for understanding and weighing an individual’s needs and risk factors so a safe and effective vaccine program can be determined.
“Profits are what vaccine critics believe is at the root of the profession’s resistance to update its protocols. Without the lure of vaccines, clients might be less inclined to make yearly veterinary visits. Vaccines add up to 14 percent of the average practice’s income, AAHA reports, and veterinarians stand to lose big.” – Ronald Schultz, DVM
Puppies should not be vaccinated earlier than 5 weeks of age because their immune systems are immature, and the presence of maternal antibodies can block a puppy’s immune system from responding appropriately. A puppy’s first vaccines can be given between 9 to 16 weeks of age. The vaccine boosters should be administered with a minimum of 2 weeks (and up to 4 weeks) between doses to give the immune system time to respond. As previously mentioned, Rottweilers and Dobermans are statistically more prone to parvo and distemper infections, so puppies of those breeds often receive an additional booster. Puppy boosters are necessary because we don’t know when/if the maternal antibodies are low enough to not block the puppy’s immune response. Research shows that less than 50 percent of puppies will respond at 6 weeks; 75 percent at 9 weeks; 90 percent at 12 weeks; and by 14 to 16 weeks, close to 100 percent will respond. A titer can be performed two or more weeks after the last shot in the series to verify the puppy’s immune system responded as expected. I recommend (healthy) puppies be vaccinated for distemper and parvo.
Some believe that if an annual vaccine doesn’t help, it also won’t hurt. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If a dog has measurable antibodies present from a past vaccine (meaning he’s still protected by the vaccine), and is vaccinated unnecessarily, he would not respond with a significant increase in antibody titer. However, he could develop a hypersensitivity to vaccine components, or put at risk for other adverse reactions, like hypersensitivity disorder. Ronald Schultz, DVM states, “Extending the revaccination intervals for canine core vaccines does not place the animal at increased risk to developing vaccine preventable disease, but it does reduce the potential for adverse reactions.” Dr. Schultz and other researchers have data showing that after the initial round of vaccines, most dogs will have immunity for life from CDV, CPV, and CAV. Other clinical studies have shown some core vaccines to have a minimum duration of immunity (DOI) of seven years or more.
* Duration of Immunity (DOI) is the length of time an animal is protected from a disease.
The rabies vaccine is the only vaccine mandated by law in most states. The first rabies vaccine should be given no earlier than 12 to 16 weeks of age, or as local law dictates, and again one year later. The three-year vaccine, if accepted by state law, can be administered at that time, and then every three years thereafter. The rabies vaccine should be administered by itself a few weeks after other core vaccines are given, and should not be administered in the same body area as the other vaccines. Did you know rabies vaccinations are now administered in a hind limb instead of the neck because it’s more practical to amputate a limb if a vaccine-associated sarcoma develops?
The rabies vaccine is one of the most reactive virus vaccines, and the only core vaccine that requires a minimum DOI study to be approved by the USDA. The USDA has approved only studies of just three years’ duration for the rabies vaccine, despite a French challenge study showing a DOI of five years, and serological studies showing a DOI of at least seven years.
Studies conducted by doctors Jean Dodds, DVM and Ronald Schultz, DVM have been instrumental in providing awareness of the duration of immunity conveyed by rabies vaccines. They established The Rabies Challenge Fund with the goal of extending the required interval for rabies boosters while ensuring pets remain protected from the disease, and ultimately reducing health problems stemming from adverse vaccine reactions.
“Because it is almost always fatal, Rabies is the most important zoonotic disease that can be transmitted from dogs and cats to human beings. The most effective way to prevent this zoonotic disease is by vaccinating dogs and cats. Showing that a vaccine for rabies can provide 5 or preferably 7 years of immunity would have great significance not only in controlling rabies but more importantly in reducing the adverse vaccine reactions that can occur in dogs and cats after vaccination.” – Ronald Schultz, DVM
“This is one of the most important projects in veterinary medicine. It will benefit all dogs by providing evidence that protection from rabies vaccination lasts at least 5 years, thereby avoiding unnecessary revaccination with its attendant risk of debilitating adverse reactions.” – Jean Dodds, DVM
In general, I do not recommend giving dogs non-core vaccines. Non-core vaccines include: para-influenza, Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough), Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme), and leptospirosis. It’s important to note that bordetella, lyme and lepto vaccines have a very short immunity duration (3-6 mos.) because the diseases are bacterial (not viral). Lepto vaccines are the most reactogenic of all the vaccines, even more so than the rabies vaccine. Coronavirus (CCV) and giardia vaccines have no proven efficacy. Even the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) guidelines state, “Prevalence of clinical cases of confirmed coronavirus (CCV) disease does not justify vaccination.”
A titer is a measurement of an antibody to a specific virus. The antibody is in the liquid portion of blood. With parvo, distemper, and adenovirus titers, the presence of any measurable antibody indicates protection in vaccinated dogs older than 16 weeks of age.
A positive antibody test means your pet is still protected by the vaccine and does not need to be revaccinated. A positive test helps us reduce risks associated with over-vaccinating. However, if a dog tests negative for a protective antibody, the situation becomes far more complicated as some dogs do not depend on protective antibodies, but rather on cell mediated immunity. These dogs remain well protected against disease despite testing negative for the presence of an antibody.
For more information about vaccines and their risks, please read my book: