What’s up with dog vaccinations? | Guest column

by GWEN STAMM

I grew up thinking that vaccinations for dogs were always a good thing.  Recently when I adopted my first adult dog in 20 years I discovered that many of the earlier “best practices” on booster vaccinations for adult dogs were no longer valid.

According to Dr. Ronald Schultz, a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, puppies absolutely need to be vaccinated for canine parvovirus, distemper and adenovirus, but for decades he has also spoken out against over-vaccinating adult pets.

In a 1992 paper he said, “Extending the revaccination intervals for canine core vaccines does not place the animal at increased risk to developing preventable disease, but it does reduce the potential for adverse reactions.”

Some adverse reactions to over-vaccination can be mild (fever, facial swelling, anorexia, vomiting) or severe (susceptibility to infections, neurological disorders, aberrant behavior) and even fatal.

It wasn’t until 2003, as a member of the AAHA Canine Task Force (which provides vaccination guidelines to the veterinary industry), that Dr. Schultz’s over-vaccination concerns were finally acknowledged.

As a result, the booster guidelines changed from one to three years for adult dogs.  Although Dr. Schultz was instrumental in this 2003 decision, he goes on to say that it is even better “to run antibody titers” every three years.

A “titer” is a measurement of how much antibody to a certain antigen is circulating in the blood at that moment. In his opinion, if the titer test shows immunity there is no need to re-vaccinate your dog.

Dr. Jean Dodds, DVM, considered one of the foremost experts in pet healthcare, also supports the use of titer tests every three years to prevent over-vaccination.

In her paper, “Changing Vaccine Protocols,” Dr. Dodds states, “…studies in refereed journals show that 90 to 98 percent of dogs and cats that have been properly vaccinated develop good measureable antibody titers to the infectious agent measured.”  She goes on to say, “core vaccines along with natural exposures last a minimum of seven to nine years, and likely are present for life.”

Recently a new titer test called Vaccicheck has been developed.  It is faster and easier than the earlier titer tests since it can be done in the veterinarian’s office rather than sent to a lab.

Consequently, this titer test is also less expensive. For example, a clinic in the Seattle area charges $55 for the Vaccicheck for dogs.  If the dog shows lack of immunity they provide the required vaccinations for free.

For more information about pet vaccinations in general see Whole Dog Journal, August 2008, “Dog Vaccination Information”; August 2010 article “Over-Vaccination – Dog Owners Beware”; and March 2013, “Time for Vaccines?”

Additional information can be found at Dr. W. Jean Dodds’s website http://www.hemopet.org.

For information on Vaccicheck go to http://vaccicheck.com/.

For a comprehensive list of adverse reactions to over-vaccination see the AAHA’s Canine Vaccine Guidelines at:  http://www.aahanet.org/publicdocuments/caninevaccineguidelines.pdf

Gwen Stamm, a retired ESL teacher from the University of Washington, lives on Orcas full time. She spends much of her free time researching pet health and advocating for animals.