Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Doggie Vaccination 101: understanding what’s right for your dog

My nine-year old goldens, Daisy and Buddy recently went for their annual veterinarian health check-up. After a thorough going over, Buddy got his rabies booster vaccination, and both dogs had blood drawn for their annual titer tests.

This post is for general information. Please consult with your veterinarian about your dog’s health care and vaccination needs.

If you want to start a debate between dog people, bring up the topic of food or vaccinations. Even the vets don’t agree - I don’t point this out as a bad thing –they all have different training and practical experience. There are so many opinions, and everyone is firmly entrenched in their beliefs. You’d think that something that claims to be science-based would be easy, but it’s not.

At our kennel we see many people – especially first time dog guardians – who aren’t sure what to do even after talking with their vet; for example, they get one vaccination and think they’re done, when in fact they need additional boosters and their rabies shot. If you’re new to doggie parenting, here’s vaccination 101 to help you sift through it all.

Puppies and unvaccinated or improperly vaccinated dogs are at the highest risk of infection (if I had a new puppy, I would be extremely careful around areas where dogs congregate. I would carry it into the vet’s office so it wouldn’t be exposed to anything nasty that could be lurking in the parking lot or clinic itself). Dogs who socialize with other dogs at parks, grooming shops, dog training facilities, dog shows, doggie day cares and boarding kennels are at a greater risk of disease exposure. Dogs who interact with wildlife have a greater risk of rabies exposure. Vaccination is proven to minimize risk.

There are several different canine vaccinations your vet can choose from. In our part of Saskatchewan, veterinarians typically recommend a series of three to four shots for some combination of these diseases:
By vaccinating against distemper, parainfluenza, and adenovirus, dogs are protected against the respiratory disease Infectious Tracheobronchitis. Veterinarians may or may not recommend vaccination against Bordetalla or other vaccines depending on their philosophies towards vaccination and your dog’s risk factors. Risk factors are based on your pet’s lifestyle and geographic area where specific diseases may be prevalent. For example, a dog that lives in a city apartment is at much less of risk of contracting Leptospirosis than a rural dog who is exposed to raccoons.

After the puppy vaccines, your veterinarian will create a schedule of revaccination that includes the core vaccines – distemper, parvovirus (parvo) and rabies boosters, along with other non-core vaccines. If you check your dog’s vaccination certificate you’ll see a expiry dates for either disease names or some combination D, H and P's. (This is not to be confused with the vaccination expiry date – otherwise known as the best before date on the vaccine itself.)

Depending on where you live, there are laws that govern rabies vaccination. If you’re traveling with your pet for pleasure or to move, make sure you understand the vaccination requirements for different countries, provinces and states. Likewise, there are no common standards for boarding kennel vaccination protocols, so based on their experience and judgement, everyone does things a little bit different. If you’re boarding your dog, understand the specific vaccination policies for each of the kennels you plan on using.

Bordetella is the interesting vaccination. Some veterinarians encourage this vaccination – and some discourage it saying that it’s not overly effective. Some kennels insist on it, others don’t. Our perspective is that we admit dogs who are vaccinated according to their veterinarian’s wishes. In the best interest of the dog’s health, we won’t contradict a veterinarian’s recommendation. They’re the professionals in this matter, not us. The Bordatella vaccine is typically given as a nasal spray or injected vaccination with a booster. We like to think about it as being very similar to the flu shot for people. Some people get it, some don’t. Most often if a dog gets kennel cough, it’s like a person getting a common cold – uncomfortable, but for healthy dogs not life-threatening.

Other vaccinations and preventative treatments are more location-based. For example, ten years ago my dog would get the heartworm pill. However, given that there has only been one confirmed Saskatchewan originating case of Heartworm (and that dog was imported from the southern states), today my veterinarian doesn’t recommend heartworm treatment for my dogs.

The Controversy

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. Vaccination manufacturers needed to prove that the vaccines are effective for one year, which they did. What no one has proven though is how long those vaccinations are effective for – one, three, five years – or possibly a lifetime. As well, what also hasn’t been proven is the negative impact of over-vaccination. There is growing evidence that chronic illness increases with vaccination repetition and, although rare, reactions and complications occur.

Changing Protocols

Most veterinarians used to revaccinate annually. Because of new information, many, but not all clinics, are changing to a more customized approach based on each individual dog. Many dogs are now on a three-year protocol, get vaccinations postponed if ill, and stop vaccinating after the dog is geriatric – typically around ten years of age. Some veterinarians give all three vaccines at once, and others give parvo one year, distemper the next, and rabies during the third year. That way the dog still gets their very important annual health check-up, but doesn’t get vaccinated for things they don’t need. Not all clinics have adopted these new approaches.

Some veterinarians now offer alternatives to “regular” vaccinations. By drawing blood to do a titer test otherwise known as a serologic titer, they measure antibody response to a specific disease. Some diseases have been studied enough to know what level of antibody protects against that disease. This level is called a "protective titer." In Saskatchewan, they typically titer test for distemper and parvo. To get a rabies titer, your dog’s blood sample needs to be shipped all the way to Kansas, so it’s rarely done here.

To save money, some people choose to vaccinate their own dogs. I’m not at all keen on that. Vaccines must be handled in very specific ways (refrigerated), and be administered correctly to healthy animals. By self-administering, there is a greater risk to your dog because of product deterioration due to poor handling by the shipper, wholesaler, retailer or you, and ineffectiveness due to improper injection. As well, veterinarians are trained to ask the right questions about your dog’s health – and keep abreast of changing standards and protocols.

Some people choose not to vaccinate. That is a choice you can make. However, before making that decision, talk with a shelter worker who has experienced a distemper outbreak, or who has watched a “parvo puppy” suffer and die. As well, by making the choice to not vaccinate without your veterinarian’s blessing, you’re also making the choice to not board, groom or train your dog at a professional facility.

Daisy’s titer counts came back within range, and Buddy’s parvo is ok and distemper is lower than last year. We’ve got an appointment with our veterinarian to talk about whether he needs a distemper booster this year, or if it can wait another year. Because the kennel we take them to while we go away on vacation insists on Bordatella, both dogs will get the nasal vaccination in October. My veterinarian doesn’t recommend Bordatella for my two, so if that kennel didn’t insist, they wouldn’t get it.

My recommendation is that you know your dog, their environment and their lifestyle and travel risk factors – consult with your veterinarian to create a vaccination system that reduces risk and improves your dog’s quality of life, then, watch for and let your vet know of any post-vaccination symptoms.

If you’re interested in this topic, here are some additional useful resources:


  1. Those are a couple of gorgeous goldens Daisy and Buddy!

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  3. This information is really very nice and useful for dog owner of knowing about dog vaccination. It is very important to regularly vaccinate your dog to keep healthy life and reduce risk.

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