Information and technology has come a long way in regard to vaccinations. Some years ago, all vaccinations were killed viruses and needed a series of repeat shots to give good immunity. With the advent of modified live vaccinations, immune response can be achieved with one or two vaccinations and modified live vaccinations offer fewer side effects. Most vaccinations today, except for rabies are modified live. Modified live vaccines offer longer term protection, at least 3 years and probably up to 7 years. The Rabies vaccination is a killed virus, and needs to have a booster shot within a year, to achieve longer immunity. Vaccinations based on bacteria, such as leptospirosis, are only good for a few months.
With all the information that is available, plus hearing what your veterinarian recommends, deciding which method of vaccinating can be very confusing. It is important for all dog owners to educate themselves as much as they can, with a focus on the age, breed and weight of their dog.
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Some breeds, such as toy breeds, can be more reactive to certain vaccines. Since toy dogs weigh less, they can be more prone to anaphylactic shock and other adverse reactions. Some small dog owners administer Benadryl to their dogs before giving vaccinations to help prevent such side effects. Because of these known problems with small and toy breeds, I was very glad to learn that vaccines are now available with less adjuvant (the ‘filler’ liquid in vaccinations), because not as much fluid needs to be injected into these smaller dogs.
Selection of vaccinations and the timing of them may depend on where you live and what threats and issues are in your area. I choose to vaccinate my dogs only for the common and lethal issues in my area, which include parvovirus and distemper. I also vaccinate my dogs for rabies after they are done teething and I repeat this vaccine in one year because it is a killed vaccine and needs another vaccine to provide proper immunity. I live in the country and rabies has been identified here. What I choose to vaccinate my dogs for is my choice. It is not necessarily a recommendation to you, but to offer you an example and a guide. You need to do what fits for your dogs and makes the most sense based on what they might be exposed to in your area and from the research you have done about vaccinations and dogs.
Lyme disease is prevalent in some parts of the country. Therefore, it may be necessary to include that protection. If you decide to use dog parks and other heavily dog-populated areas, kennel cough protection along with para-influenza vaccines should be considered. Dogs are more prone to catch dog-related illnesses wherever large groups of dogs gather and where fecal matter is found.
It is important to know that immunity does not develop until 2 or 3 weeks after vaccination. Additionally, there is some immunity provided in the mother’s milk. However, when vaccinations are given too soon (before 10-12 weeks) this immunity from the mother’s milk can ‘override’ vaccinations, so they may not be effective prior to that. This is probably why most veterinarians recommend more than one set of vaccinations. I generally vaccinate my puppies at 10 weeks and then a month later, and vaccinate for parvo and distemper only. I do not give the rabies vaccination until the dog is a little older as killed virus vaccinations tend to be the ones most likely to have side effects. I wait until puppies are about 6 months old because they will have gone through the stress of teething and I know at that age, their immune system is better developed.
Some rules I follow religiously about vaccinations include:
- Never vaccinate a dog unless they are perfectly healthy. Every vaccine insert states this. Vaccines suppress the immune system for a short time, but this can be very detrimental to a dog that is ill or has health problems.
- Never vaccinate a senior dog. Seniors generally don’t have as strong an immune system as adult dogs. At the very least, never give a senior dog multiple vaccines; only give one at a time.
- Don’t give multiple series of shots to puppies. Modified live shots do ‘take’ if given at the right time. I do give 2 series of parvo and distemper, at 10 weeks and at 14 weeks, in case the maternal antibodies from the mother’s milk override the ability of the vaccine to develop antibodies.
- If possible, give puppy vaccinations at home. Taking a puppy to a veterinarian is also exposing the puppy to the very diseases you are trying to prevent. If you must go to the vet, carry the puppy in and out of your veterinarian’s office.
Some links on some recommended vaccinations schedules include:
And here is an interesting article on notes taken from Dr Ronald Schultz’s lecture (noted canine immunologist) on vaccination protocols:
Titers have gained a lot of publicity in the last few years. Everyone is excited that there may be a solution to avoid giving a dog too many vaccinations. Titers are a blood test, to determine the amount of antibodies the dog has developed to a particular virus. This would include parvovirus, distemper and rabies. People are running in droves to get their dogs titer tested hoping they can avoid continued vaccination.
However, titer testing isn’t fully conclusive and people need to be aware of what the ability of titer testing can and can’t do. Antibodies are useful to indicate immunity because when the body is exposed to the virus, it will release these to fight the disease. A titer test measures the amount of antibodies circulating to determine if they are present and if they are in high enough numbers to provide immunity.
Vaccinations (or exposure to the virus, in which the dog would develop antibodies) provide immunity, which triggers the antibodies to respond if the virus is present. But the true immunity marker is memory cells. These hold the ‘memory’ of the virus being present before, and these cells cannot be determined or tested accurately yet. More research is being done on this and hopefully in the future testing will measure these cells. Antibodies still provide a good picture and idea of the dog’s immunity, however unless a vaccination has been recent OR the dog has been exposed to the virus in the recent past, the antibodies lay dormant.
What this means is you can do a titer test and even if your dog has enough antibodies to be immune, they antibodies do not show up on the test or they don’t show high enough numbers to show good immunity. A test showing good immunity is conclusive, and there are not false positives, however the test can also show a negative result, but he dog still has good immunity.
Other downsides to titer tests are that they are expensive and the quality of the test can vary. If you are thinking about having titer tests done, please do your research and learn as much as you can about the tests you may be deciding to use.
When is the best time to titer test? The ideal time is 3 weeks after the second vaccination as a puppy. If the puppy achieved good immunity from the vaccinations, the test would show conclusive results. In that light, the owner would know the vaccinations worked and the dog is protected. Running titer tests a year or more after the vaccines is administered, could very well show results of no antibodies, or a count too low to prove immunity and dog owners need to be aware of this.
It is certainly a frustrating situation. If vaccinations are not given at the correct time, they don’t always protect dogs. Vaccines also suppress the immune system for a short time, which can be very detrimental to dogs in poor health, or senior dogs. Titer testing can show immunity, but it needs to be done shortly after vaccination, or the test can show lower results than are the reality due to the fact that antibodies do go dormant if they haven’t been recently exposed to the virus.
What are the correct answers? We truly don’t have enough information yet. I do encourage everyone to read and educate themselves on both vaccinations and titers. It is an individual choice that depends a lot on the dog’s age, breed and health, and what your dog is most likely to be exposed to in your area. Vaccinations can work to keep your dog safe from parvovirus and distemper. Rabies vaccinations are effective for a very dangerous and lethal disease. Titer tests can be effective, if tested 3 weeks after vaccination and MAY show some antibody activity if done a year later… but not always.
Here is a good link on titers that explains them well:
This is a link on vaccinations and tittering, with numerous good reference links:
There are many more good articles out there on vaccinations and titers, but please refer to articles that use references, and if possible, are not selling titer tests or vaccinations. In both cases, those articles would probably be biased to whatever method they were advocating or selling.
Use common sense, understand your own dog’s needs and continue to read and research. My belief is that two vaccinations of parvovirus and distemper, given at the RIGHT time, will protect a dog that has a normal immune system. Titer testing can be done 3 weeks after the second vaccination if you want to feel secure in the effectiveness or question your dog’s ability to develop good antibodies.
Always remember, the best defense to a healthy dog is a strong immune system. You can help build a strong immune system in your dog by feeding a healthy diet and providing supplements that support the immune system. I recommend feeding a raw diet or home cooked diet of 75% animal proteins and 25% carbohydrates and adding 1,000 milligrams of EPA fish oil capsules per 10-20 pounds of body weight daily and Berte’s Immune Blend to provide antioxidants, probiotics and digestive enzymes.
Spring is upon us!
Enjoy the warm weather and take nice long walks with your dogs!
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms!
Stay happy and healthy until next month!