Deadly Disease Outbreak: Is Your Dog Safe?

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02- vaccine 2

Recently there has been an outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society in Pittsburgh. Distemper is a highly contagious viral infection that can affect the dog’s nervous system, respiratory system, or gastrointestinal tract. It can cause a range of symptoms including coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures.

The disease is often fatal even with aggressive treatment. It was a common killer of canines until the use of the distemper vaccine became popular in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Although we rarely see this disease these days, occasional outbreaks do occur and unprotected dogs are at risk.

I have not personally seen a case of Distemper for the last 15 years. But, here it is rearing its ugly head very close to home. This type of outbreak can happen anywhere at any time. It just goes to show that when it comes to Distemper, Parvo, and other diseases covered by vaccination, it is best to be sure your dog is safe.

Although I am not a fan of over-vaccinating pets, I do believe there is a place for prudent vaccinations. The Distemper-Parvo combination vaccine protects against several deadly diseases and is a must for all pets. The vaccination controversy is generally based around the need to give this vaccine on a yearly basis.

It is helpful to understand why it is that some veterinarians give yearly Distemper-combo vaccines. Basically, animal vaccine producers test their vaccines by injecting a group of animals. One year later they do what is called a “challenge study” where they expose the vaccinated animals to the virus. If the dogs don’t get sick, the vaccine company says, “Oh good, our vaccine is good for one year.” There is not a lot of financial incentive to do that test 3 or 4 years later and prove that we should give fewer vaccines. For various reasons, many veterinarians feel compelled to follow the label of the vaccine.

Since 2003, the American Animal Hospital Association has recommended that the Canine Distemper Combination vaccine not be given more frequently than every 3 years. In 2004, a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that in over 98% if dogs the vaccine lasts at least 4 years (that’s as far out as they tested).

My recommendation regarding the Distemper-Parvo combo vaccine is that 3-4 years after your dog’s last shot, have blood titers done. These blood tests determine if your dog has the immune memory to fight off the diseases. I believe that titers should be done on a yearly basis to be sure the disease immunity does not fade.

Have you had vaccine titers done on your dog?

5 replies
  1. Micki Handte
    Micki Handte says:

    Yes, I titer yearly and have had to give each dog a booster. One came back low on the parvo and the other came low on the distemper. The parvo titer was low after about 5 years. The distemper titer was low after 3 years.

  2. Jeri
    Jeri says:

    Both of our dogs have been titered for both and have strong positives – year 5 after vaccines. (They were due for the 3 year vaccines last year and we titered instead. This is the second year titering.) Following what the immunologists say, I don’t expect those levels to drop much if at all. (Dr. Schultz also doesn’t think one needs to titer more often than every 3 years if one gets vaccinations every 3 years. We do so annually to satisfy our vet and also because our area allows for titers as proof of Rabies vaccination — which we gladly do in lieu of the vaccine!)

    • Dr. Doug
      Dr. Doug says:

      I’ve heard about the 3 year titer recommendations. I’m not so sure I agree. Look at Micki’s experience where the titers dropped off. Vaccines are different than titers. Vaccines protect into the future. Titers tell you the animal is protected today, but you don’t know when the titers may drop below the protective level.

  3. Jeri
    Jeri says:

    Dr. Schultz doesn’t believe that titers are a “snapshot” in time because of cellular immunity. Once the animal is immune, they are immune because of what is happening at the cellular level (again, according to Dr. Schultz). For that reason, I really don’t think it’s necessary – strictly speaking – to titer annually. I do so, but not because I really think those titers are going to change to negative. I know a lot of vets believe titers have to be at a certain level, but from what I’ve read in Dr. Schultz’ work, a positive is a positive is a positive. So far no change in the titers and I really don’t expect there to be. Time will tell, I suppose, but it probably won’t make a difference in what we do – certainly not with our older dog who is now 15.


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