By Dr. Bruce Little
A few years ago, there was a movement amongst pet owners in America exhibiting push-back against the advice of veterinarians, animal shelter managers, and breed associations who recommended that dogs need to be vaccinated against a plethora of infectious diseases that can be transmitted from dog to dog who are in contact with each other, wild animal populations, or equipment such as food dishes and water bowls. That reluctance to vaccinate our dogs continues today in many parts of the country. In the human population, some parents choose to neglect the advice of their pediatricians and school administrators by refusing to have their children vaccinated against many childhood diseases, such as, measles, mumps, and whooping cough. The reasons these parents state is that the vaccines themselves can cause disease in their children. Many are under the belief that these vaccines will cause autism, although there is no scientific evidence to substantiate that charge. These people who are against vaccinations in their children are also against having their dogs vaccinated for the same reasons. This theory is increasingly being applied to pets in the United States, and these fears are now spreading to Europe especially in the United Kingdom. In a statement to it’s members, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) recently said, “We are aware of an increase in anti-vaccination pet owners in the U.S. who have voiced concerns that vaccinations may lead to their dogs developing autism-like behavior; however, there is currently no scientific evidence to suggest autism in dogs exists, or that there is a link between vaccination and autism. Usual vaccinations for puppies include protection against canine distemper, canine parvovirus, kennel cough, Leptospirosis and parainfluenza.” And in the United States it is mandatory that all dogs older than 12 weeks be vaccinated against rabies. According to the PDSA Wellbeing Report in 2017, pet vaccination rates in the United Kingdom have fallen to where 25% of dogs and 35% of cats are going unvaccinated. To my knowledge there are no current statistics regarding vaccination rates in the U.S.; however, according to anecdotal accountings, those rates are lower than they were five years ago. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) places blame for much of this ill-advised reluctance to vaccinate pets on a company named, PhytoPet, who was selling “homeopathic nosodes” on line through Amazon.com. The BVA contacted Amazon and they have taken these homeopathic products that have not undergone research and required government oversight to approve the product’s efficacy off their web site. The treatments being purchased on Amazon advertised on their web site that if given these homeopathic pills to pregnant bitches, it will provide immunity to litters of pups. Using unregulated and non-scientifically proven products will not protect your dogs from disease. Pet owners have a responsibility and a duty to protect their animals from pain, injury, suffering and disease. I know of no better way to protect against many diseases than vaccination. Your veterinarian can explain to you what diseases are required by law and what diseases are prevalent in your area and advise you on the vaccinations that are needed for your pet.
At birth and for a few weeks after birth, your dog received immunity through placental transfer and/or mother’s milk. The level of immunity depends on several factors including the immune status of the mother and the condition of the puppy at birth. Disease fighting cells, called antibodies, will protect the puppy for 6 to 12 weeks, again depending on the level of immunity that the mother has. Puppies should be vaccinated at six weeks of age and repeated every 2 to 4 weeks until the puppy is 16 weeks of age. After this initial vaccination procedure your dog should be vaccinated at regular intervals for the rest of its life. Your veterinarian will determine what those intervals are and when repeat vaccinations are necessary depending upon the lifestyle you and your dog keep. If your dog is a hunter or you live in a wooded area where wildlife and stray dogs abound, your veterinarian may advise annual boosters to keep the dog’s immunity up to a level to protect the dog. Or if you live in an area and partake of the many social activities that dogs and their owners frequent, such as dog parks, hiking trails, day spas, grooming parlors or other public places, then your dog will require more frequent booster vaccine protection. There are some dogs that spend all their time in the home or in the enclosed yard. These dogs may not need to be booster vaccinated as frequently as those who lead a more social life.
Vaccines stimulate antibody production by giving the dog a controlled dose of the virus or microorganism that causes the immune system to develop antibodies. The condition of the dog at the time of vaccination determines the level of immunity it may acquire. There are altered live virus vaccines and killed vaccines that are developed for a specific disease in dogs and your veterinarian will determine which vaccine works best for a that disease. All dogs should be vaccinated against core diseases known to be infective for the canine species that are highly contagious and can cause serious illness or death. Among those diseases are rabies that is required by law in most municipal governments across the United States. Rabies can transmit from wild animals to pet dogs and eventually to humans and is not treatable once symptoms develop. Also, those dogs and people who are exposed to a known carrier of the rabies virus are quarantined for a period to determine if the virus could have exposed them to the disease. Other viral diseases common in dogs include canine distemper, infectious canine hepatitis, canine parvovirus, Lyme disease and canine influenza virus. As these viruses mutate and fight for their space on earth, dogs will need to be vaccinated to protect them from serious illnesses.
The risks from vaccinating your dog are much smaller than the risks posed by these diseases. Like any medical procedure, there are sometimes side effects with vaccines. These are usually minor inconveniences and should not be limiting factors for vaccinations. Common side effects can be soreness or swelling at the site of the vaccination, fever, decreased appetite, sneezing or coughing and other upper respiratory signs may occur after a few days post vaccination. Occasionally, dogs will undergo an allergic reaction to the vaccine. This occurs within minutes after the vaccine is administered and may cause hives, swelling of the muzzle, face and eyes, and difficulty in breathing. This constitutes a medical emergency and you should seek veterinary care immediately if these symptoms are observed. Allergic reactions to vaccines are rare.
So, whether you vaccinate or not should never be a question. All dogs need their initial vaccination series as puppies to impart immunity against very serious dog diseases. The frequency of repeat vaccinations or booster vaccinations depends upon several lifestyle variances including geographic location and the prevalence of a disease in your neighborhood, the social activity you and your dog join such as dog parks, grooming parlors and outdoor activity such as hunting or roaming the neighboring playgrounds or wooded areas. If none of these activities are included in what your dog does, then you may be able to skip some of the vaccine boosters, except rabies in most municipalities where the law requires it. Your veterinarian will be able to give you the best advice based on their education and experience in any given geographic area or disease prevalence circumstance. It is your responsibility as a dog owner to make sure your dogs are protected from these debilitating and sometimes deadly diseases for which there are preventive measures. Your dog will thank you for protecting them.
For more information, visit: American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccine Guidelines