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Vaccination - For Better or Worse

By Linda Aronson, DVM, Bearded Collie Club Of America Health Committee


Breeder-vet on puppy shots, boosters, rabies and lepto vaccine, and the potential side effects of over-vaccination.


When the first vaccines were being developed they were a minor miracle. Diseases which had killed or maimed large portions of both human and animal populations were finally brought under control.


For the most part those days are thankfully behind us. For those diseases for which we have specific, effective vaccines, the diseases themselves have become an oddity, so rare that they are seldom seen. In this environment, we have become aware of the down-side vaccination can have for some of us and our animals.


Vaccination Reactions

A person or animal becoming ill and even dying as the result of vaccination - are a concern because the diseases themselves are no longer the problem they once were. While mild reactions might seem acceptable, they may herald more serious complications after subsequent vaccinations. Increasingly, evidence is accumulating implicating vaccination as a trigger for autoimmune as well as other chronic diseases. While in some cases this may be the result of vaccine contamination, or the reversion of poorly attenuated batches of vaccine to the virulent form, in many cases the vaccination reaction is a result of the individual's genetic predisposition.


As we know, the incidence of autoimmune disease is higher in Beardies than in the general dog population. We are fortunate however, that at present, most Beardies can tolerate prudent application of "puppy shots". Other breeds, or lines within other breeds, are not as lucky. Incidence of severe vaccination reaction is so high in these cohorts, that owners and breeders have stopped vaccinating altogether. Unfortunately, if this situation spreads, we may find the diseases return, and we will be powerless to combat them once again.


The veterinary community is definitely concerned about the occurrence of vaccination reactions. New guidelines and protocol have been suggested, reducing the frequency of revaccination, and emphasizing well animal visits without the annual booster shots. In fact, there has been little research to determine how long most of the vaccines we give our pets are effective at preventing disease. Vaccines were introduced as providing protection against x disease for a minimum of (usually) twelve months. Apart from the three year rabies vaccine, that was where most of them stayed. One large study showed that distemper vaccines were effective for at least 4 years in 83% of dogs. After reviewing the literature, the following protocol was recommended to members of the American Veterinary Medical Association in a 1995 paper.


Recommended Vaccination Protocol

  1. Puppy (or kitten) vaccination series, followed by a booster at one year of age.

  2. Boosters every three years until the animal is geriatric, at which point aging and immunological factors may make further vaccination inadvisable

  3. As an alternative to repeated boosters during the adult years, monitoring serum antibody titers may be performed as an indication of the presence of "adequate immune memory". If the titers are adequate, vaccination is not necessary. If the dog is exposed to the disease it will be able to mount a rapid anamnestic immune response.

  4. One should obey one's state law where it dictates vaccination requirements - most states mandate triannual rabies vaccination, after the first two vaccines given between 9 and 12 months apart, although some may still require annual rabies vaccination. At some point I suspect these laws will be challenged by owners of animals which have had serious reactions to rabies vaccine, and do not wish to revaccinate. Rabies titers are available.

  5. Any animal which has experienced an adverse reaction to vaccination, or is at genetic or physiological risk for such a reaction should be titered rather than vaccinated. Given the incidence of autoimmune disease it might be appropriate to consider all Beardies at risk. In the past, owners were discouraged from having titers done by the perceived high cost. Antech Diagnostics will now titer for canine parvo and distemper for $21. Not much more than the cost of vaccinating, and a lot better for peace of mind

Other measures we can take in ensuring safe vaccination

  • Never vaccinate a sick animal. Delaying vaccinating puppies with diarrhea for a few days won't hurt them, vaccinating them might make them very sick, or even kill them.

  • Be aware that modified live vaccines will be shed in the dog's stool for several days. Keep susceptible individuals- the immune compromised; young, unvaccinated puppies; pregnant and lactating bitches - well away from the vaccinated dog. Be selective in the vaccines you give.

  • Give vaccines three weeks apart.

  • Avoid the multivalent vaccines and vaccinate for one or at most two diseases at a time.

  • Only vaccinate against those diseases for which your dog is at risk. For the most part, this means rabies, parvo and distemper. Giving unnecessary agents may increase the risk of negative reaction. The current leptospirosis vaccines for example do not contain the serovars (varieties) of lepto which dogs are clinically experiencing, and they only produce antibodies for a few months. Leptospira bacterins are among those most frequently implicated in vaccinosis reaction. There are new vaccines being tested against the clinically important serovars of the disease, but it is unclear whether they will prove to have a longer protective potential than current vaccines. The necessity for, and efficacy of other vaccines is also debatable. Certainly, it is not recommended to vaccinate (or prophylactically medicate) against diseases to which your dog is not going to be exposed.

  • Do not worm or otherwise medicate your dog at the same time as you vaccinate.

  • Do not dip, spray or otherwise treat your dog or home for fleas or ticks.

  • If possible, do not vaccinate during periods in which environmental allergens are high. The more stress we apply to a dog's immune system, the more likely it is to react negatively.

Genetic susceptibility also clearly is a factor in some, if not all, vaccination reactions.  We are lucky to live at a time when vaccination has greatly decreased the risk of our dogs succumbing to the diseases which killed so many prematurely when I was a child. Vaccination reaction is not really a case of the cure being worse than the disease, but it is essential that we consider what we are doing before we take an action which has the potential to negatively affect our dogs' health. EST 1998 ©   #112136158163


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