A veterinarian’s perspective on vaccinations for dogs and cats
There isn’t a hotter and more debated topic in small animal veterinary medicine than the topic of vaccinations. With different veterinarians and various political organizations in the field of veterinary medicine having different recommendations, including even many veterinary schools across the country, it can often be confusing for an animal guardian which vaccination(s) they should get for their dog or cat, as well as how frequently these vaccinations should be repeated. I’ll try and shed some light on this very confusing topic for the dog and cat owner.
As with my own approach to veterinary medicine, I personally believe that an individualized approach to this topic is needed for each pet. The risk of exposure to a particular infectious disease, as well as how severe the infection is (morbidity/mortality) , in terms of health risk to an animal are always the two most important factors I consider. In addition, I will also look at how long a vaccination has been on the market, and if it has been truly studied for safety long term, which in my opinion most vaccinations have not been adequately evaluated for long term safety, especially when repeated on a yearly or more frequent basis.
Most states do require dogs to be vaccinated for rabies by a licensed veterinarian, and many states also require cats to receive rabies vaccinations. After the initial one year rabies vaccination (which I personally don’t recommend until the immune system is mature at 6 months of age) rabies vaccinations in most states are typically good for three years by law, after being boostered at one year of age. Studies are underway right now that will most likely demonstrate that immunity to rabies vaccination is good for at least 5 or 7 years; however, for now we must certainly follow the law with regard to this vaccination, given the public health risk of rabies.
However, if an animal has a chronic medical or health condition that could be potentially exacerbated or worsened by a rabies vaccination, many states will allow a medical exemption by a licensed veterinarian in that state on an individual pet by pet basis. As for other vaccinations, in my opinion, many of them are given with too many viral/bacterial components in one injection, and many vets routinely give two or three combination vaccinations at one time. Especially in toy and smaller breeds, I have found this practice significantly increases the risk for not only short term acute vaccine reactions, but long term damage to the immune system as well, in addition to sometimes triggering chronic illness in sensitive pets. Vaccinations should definitely not be given at times of emotional, physical or hormonal stress, such as when a female animal is in heat, as well as around the time of a surgical procedure in my opinion. And they certainly should not be given when an animal has any acute illness.
Over the past several decades the typical conventional standard of practice is to give puppies and kittens multiple viral vaccinations every few weeks starting as young as 3-4 weeks of age, up until 4-5 months old and then repeating that practice every year of the animal’s life. As Schultz and Phillips wrote many years ago in Kirk’s Current Veterinary Therapy XI edition (a text taught at many veterinary schools), yearly vaccination for core viral diseases is medically unnecessary, and is a practice that lacks “scientific validity.” Immunity to most core viruses like parvo or distemper lasts for years to the life of the animal. Although the first International Veterinary Vaccines and Diagnostics Conference held at the College of Veterinary Medicine in Wisconsin over 12 years ago (in 1997) concluded that the duration of immunity is likely more than 5 years for clinically important companion animal vaccines, many veterinarians still routinely over vaccinate both puppies/kittens and adult/senior dogs and cats.
Optional vaccinations like leptospirosis and Lyme vaccination in dogs, and Feline leukemia and FIV vaccination in cats are also not universally accepted as safe and/or efficacious by many. Evidence has emerged in recent years that over vaccination has been a major factor in the development of both the epidemic increases in autoimmune diseases, seizures, behavioral and hormonal disorders, and cancer seen in younger and younger pets. I have even read papers that document evidence citing genetic changes have occurred in pets at the level of their DNA because of the viral over vaccination process over so many generations of dogs and cats. With regard to flea and tick transmitted disease, certainly use of either conventional topical flea/tick medications, such as Frontline Plus, Advantage II, or more natural alternatives, offer better insurance against vector transmitted diseases than any vaccination in my opinion.
Regardless of what an animal guardian decides, this “veterinarian sensitive” topic should be discussed between client and veterinarian about what is best for their individual pet, and an animal guardian should certainly be supplied with as much accurate and unbiased information on this issue as possible, in order to make as well informed a decision on which vaccinations their pets truly need. The product Vetri-DMG liquid is often quite helpful at time of vaccination and in the subsequent 10-14 days post vaccination to not only improve immunologic response to a vaccination, but to help modulate the immune system response so that the likelihood of vaccination reactions is decreased.