Dog shots are something that every responsible owner considers from a puppy vaccination schedule through to an adult dog vaccination schedule.
If you’re anything like most dog owners, you think of your dog as a family member, and of course you would only want the best of care for your four-legged friend.
You might be tempted, then, to leave all your dog’s medical decisions up to your veterinarian, thinking that they’re the ones with all the expertise, right?
Well, hang on a minute – you might want to rethink that idea when it comes to vaccinating your dog.
The traditional veterinary dog vaccination schedule is slowly being replaced by new recommendations. If your veterinarian is advising a yearly set of injections for your canine companion, you may be surprised to learn that it could increase the risks to your dog’s well-being.
Recent research has shown that giving our dogs too many vaccinations can potentially produce a variety of negative health effects.
Since the goal of most dog owners, is the opposite of this, let’s talk about how you can protect them in an effective way without overburdening their immune system and increasing the risk of a number of additional health issues.
How Do Dog Vaccines Work?
There are two different categories of vaccinations used in veterinary medicine – modified live (MLV), and killed vaccines.
Modified live vaccines use a changed, weakened form of the infectious virus or other microorganism, while a killed vaccine uses an inactivated (dead) form of the virus.
When the vaccine is injected into your dog, it stimulates their immune system to produce antibodies, protecting them against any future contact they might have with that particular disease.
What’s the Problem With Too Many Dog Shots?
Well, besides being unnecessary in many cases, over vaccinating a dog can overwhelm their immune system, potentially causing negative side effects. For dogs who are already ill, or who suffer from a disease that involves their immune system, giving unnecessary vaccinations can place extra stress on their bodies, causing further health problems.
Vaccine reactions in dogs can happen anywhere from minutes to weeks or even months after the vaccine is given.
This is according to Dr. Jean Dodds, a pre-eminent veterinary researcher in the field of pet health as related to vaccination, hematology and endocrine disorders.
The type and severity of the reactions can range from mild ones like fever, hives, swelling, soreness, vomiting and lack of appetite.
More serious and sometimes fatal problems have also been linked to over-vaccination, such as an increased tendency to develop infections, bone marrow suppression, brain inflammation, behavioral changes, and diseases where the immune system goes ‘haywire’, like autoimmune hemolytic anemia (a condition where the body destroys its own blood cells).
For dogs specifically, their breed can play a part in their response to vaccination as well, as some are more susceptible to diseases that affect their immune system like chronic allergies, and therefore are also more likely to develop negative reactions from unnecessary or excessive dog shots:
• American Cocker Spaniel
• German Shepherd
• Golden Retriever
• Irish Setter
• Great Dane
• Kerry Blue Terrier
• Dachshunds (all varieties, but especially the long-haired)
• Poodles (all varieties, but especially the Standard Poodle
• Old English Sheepdog
• Scottish Terrier
• Shetland Sheepdog
• Shih Tzu
Are Dog Shots Actually Necessary at All, Then?
Yes! There’s no doubt that some vaccines, when given at appropriate times, are absolutely necessary for your dog – there are still many dangerous viruses in the dog population that could harm your dog. Core vaccinations (like the ones for deadly and highly contagious illnesses like Canine Distemper and Parvovirus in dogs) lay the foundation for your pet’s lifelong immune health,
In fact Dr. Dodds advises that it’s essential for puppy shots start to be given around the age of nine weeks. This is the time period when antibody protection received from a young dog’s mother begins to fade, and the puppy is most vulnerable to contagious illnesses.
These initial puppy vaccinations are vital for the protection of your dog during a time when their immune system isn’t mature.
What many dog owners don’t realize, however, is that after the initial puppy vaccination schedule, many (not all) dogs carry immunity to these diseases for much longer than the current guidelines state – some dogs may even be protected throughout the majority of their lifetime!
Veterinary vaccination experts, and indeed, many more concerned veterinarians have long been recommending an alternative to the yearly vaccination schedule for puppies – and, in fact, the biggest veterinary organization, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), now advises that dogs are only revaccinated for these core vaccines every three years (or more), plus rabies shots for dogs as required by local laws.
What about Those Other Vaccines?
You may also be wondering about those ‘optional’ or ‘lifestyle’ vaccinations that your vet may have mentioned.
For instance the lepto vaccine for dogs. The decision to vaccinate your dog for tother diseases should be one that’s carefully discussed with your veterinarian, as your dog’s risk of exposure to these diseases often depends on the region in which you live, or the environments and situations that your furry friend is exposed to.
Before deciding whether or not these are needed for your dog, ask your vet about what the risk factors involved.
Does your dog stay in boarding kennel while you’re away? So possibly a kennel cough vaccine might be recommended. Kennel cough treatment could incur substantial cost, not to mention the distress it will cause your dog.
Do you take them along as a trail buddy when you’re camping or hiking?
Does the area where you live in have a higher recorded number of a particular contagious disease? All are important factors to consider before agreeing to these dog vaccines.
How Do I Avoid Over-vaccinating My Dog? I Want Them to Be Safe!
There’s no reason why your dog can’t be protected from both contagious illnesses and the hazards of unnecessary vaccinations.
First, there are several alternatives to the traditional dog vaccination schedule that can help reduce the number of dog shots, limiting the impact of those vaccinations on your dog.
It’s always a good idea to discuss all vaccination recommendations with your veterinarian, so that they can determine what your dog’s unique needs and risk factors are. The vet can then tailor a specific dog vaccination schedule.
For some dogs, this may involve giving vaccinations separately or minimizing the number of vaccinations given at one time, delaying vaccinations if a pet is sick or feverish, and avoiding the administration of future vaccine doses if a dog has had a negative reaction to that particular shot in the past.
Second, another expert recommended solution to the problem of booster over-vaccination (and one that’s effective and cost efficient for pet owners) is antibody titer testing.
A titer is a simple blood test that accurately measures your dog’s antibody levels. What a titer test tells your veterinarian is whether or not your pet continues to be protected against the ‘core’ viruses after vaccination – which helps you to avoid unnecessary (and maybe harmful) booster dog shots. (The only exception is rabies shots – booster vaccination is required by law for rabies in every state). Published studies about vaccine titer testing have shown that over 92% of dogs that have been given vaccines properly form sufficient antibody titers, and generally, these titer levels tend to last a minimum of 7-9 years, if not longer!
Finally, there are other, holistic ways to help support your furry friend’s health and immune system too.
Feeding your dog a high quality, complete and balanced diet, providing them with enough physical exercise and mental stimulation, and giving them lots of love and one-on-one with you are benefits that can’t be ignored when considering your dog’s overall health picture.
Remember that you are your dog’s owner, best friend, and best advocate – the steps you take towards being well-informed about their health care are the best way to ensure that you spend many happy, healthy years together with them!