Vaccines a Shot in the Dark

Vaccines are indeed double-edged swords. They are a useful tool for preventing some pretty terrible diseases that can kill our pets. At the same time, they can adversely affect the immune system and the overall health of the animal.

Vaccines are a way of introducing antigen into the body. This antigen stimulates the immune system to form a defense against the particular disease. As “good” as vaccines are, every pet does not need to be vaccinated for every disease, every year.

All pets do need to be vaccinated for rabies. This is a legal issue due to the zoonotic (disease spread from animals to people) potential of this virus. Besides, the vaccine keeps millions of pets safe too.

When you take your dog to the veterinarian for a “distemper” vaccine, you are most likely getting more than you bargained for. It is extremely rare for any veterinarian to give only distemper in a vaccine. The vast majority of distemper vaccines come with between 4 and 7 different disease entities in one shot.

The basic canine distemper vaccine includes distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus, and parainfluenza. This “combo” shot may also include two strains of leptospirosis and/or coronavirus. From the conventional point of view this “supersizing” of the vaccine is considered a good thing. Holistic vets have concerns about the effects such vaccines have on the dog’s immune system.

The supersizing concept is true for the feline distemper vaccine as well. The basic feline distemper combination vaccine contains panleukopenia (feline distemper) calicivirus and feline herpes virus. It sometimes includes chlamydia as well.

I believe that every pet needs its basic distemper vaccine. This needs to be boostered several times in puppies and kittens to insure immunity. After a year of age, the distemper vaccine in both dogs and cats has been proven to last from four to seven years. That is correct, it has now been scientifically proven that yearly vaccination for distemper is unnecessary.

My recommendation is that four years after adult vaccination, dogs and cats get yearly titers done. A titer is a blood test that demonstrates whether or not the immune system can respond to the disease. As long as the titer is adequate, there is no need for the vaccine.

Do not rely on your veterinarian to be up to date on this research and this approach to vaccinating. Many still cling to the outdated practice of vaccinating yearly. You must be your animal’s advocate in this area.

As for the other vaccines that are available for pets, they should be given on an as needed basis. For instance, there are certain regions of the country where leptospirosis is prevalent. Dogs at risk of exposure should be vaccinated. This vaccine is an exception to the rule as far as length of immunity. If your dog needs it, the vaccine should be administered yearly. Similarly, the lyme disease vaccine is helpful for those dogs that are at risk and needs to be given annually.

The kennel cough vaccine is of very limited help in preventing upper respiratory infections in dogs kept in close quarters. Unfortunately most kennels and groomers require that dogs be kept up to date. The coronavirus vaccine has been characterized as “a vaccine looking for a disease.” Even the American Animal Hospital Association states that this vaccine is not recommended.

For cats, the chlamydia vaccine protects against a mild, self-limiting disease. I do not recommend that it be included in regular feline vaccination programs. At the same time, outdoor cats are exposed to feline leukemia virus and benefit from this vaccine. The latest research shows the immunity from the vaccine lasts at least three years. Because this disease is spread only by direct contact, cats that are kept indoors do not need the vaccine as long as they are not likely to be exposed to cats of unknown leukemia status.

Having worked for five years at an animal shelter, I have seen first hand the benefit of proper vaccination. As a holistic vet, I have witnessed the devastating effects of over-vaccination. For our pets’ optimal health, a balance must be struck.

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