By Christie Keith
This article is meant to inform you and your veterinarian of research results which might be useful in determining a vaccination program for your pet. It is educational in nature, and is not intended as veterinary
advice. The author and publisher cannot be held responsible for any unfavorable results from the use of this information. Readers should seek professional veterinary advice for any health decisions involving their
Annual shots: veterinarians insist on them, boarding kennels and groomers require them, and keeping "current" on vaccinations has become one of the hallmarks of responsible pet ownership. But are they
really necessary? And are they safe?
You may not be aware of it, but controversy over these questions is growing among breeders, veterinarians, and researchers. Some have attributed every ill of the canine and feline pet populations, from allergies to
arthritis to severe immune system breakdowns, to excessive use of vaccines. Others, most notably vaccine manufacturers, insist the vaccines are harmless and that the benefits outweigh the risks.
According to researcher Dr. Ronald Schultz, chairman of the Pathobiology Department at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, "It is becoming increasingly more evident that it is no longer
true to say, `Well, even if the vaccine doesn't help, it won't hurt.' There are some canine vaccination programs that have no scientific justification that may have the potential of causing harm."
Schultz recommends a moderate approach to vaccination for dogs, eliminating some of the commonly given shots and reducing the frequency of the rest. He suggests evaluating the risk and benefit of vaccines on an
Current Veterinary Therapy XI states, "A practice that was started many years ago and that lacks scientific validity or verification is annual revaccinations. Almost without exception there is no immunologic
requirement for annual revaccination. Immunity to viruses persists for years or for the life of the animal." ("Canine and Feline Vaccines"; Philips, et al; 1994.)
How is the average pet owner to know what shots to give, and when? Most veterinarians, breeders, and animal shelter operators know only what the vaccine manufacturers tell them, and have an almost unquestioning
belief that vaccines are lifesaving at best and at worst, benign. But pet owners can investigate canine and feline diseases and immunizations themselves, and with their veterinarians design a vaccination program
specifically for the needs of their pets.
The two most serious viral diseases to which dogs are susceptible are distemper and parvovirus. Distemper is an old, endemic canine disease, and in puppies often causes death. Parvovirus is an
intestinal infection which first appeared in 1978, which also frequently causes death in puppies. Other diseases commonly included in dog vaccines are hepatitis, parainfluenza, corona, and leptospirosis. The vaccine
for these diseases is called "DHLPP", or DHLPP-C when the coronavirus vaccine is included.
Distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis vaccinations are extraordinarily effective, and according to Schultz, a single immunizing dose (which is not, he warns, the same thing as a single shot) should provide lifelong
immunity. While Schultz says those who wish to take a more moderate approach can re-vaccinate adult dogs for these diseases every two or three years, he immunizes dogs with modified live virus vaccines for
distemper, hepatitis, and parvovirus at six to eight weeks of age, and again at 14 to 16 weeks, with a last parvo vaccine at 22 weeks of age, and does not give any further vaccines. (Note: California law requires
that rabies vaccines be administered to dogs and cats by a licensed veterinarian every three years.)
Be sure, Schultz warns, that the vaccine used is an effective one; his study found brand differences in vaccine effectiveness as great as 100 percent. In other words, some vaccines are 100 percent effective at
certain ages while at that same age others have no effect at all. According to his research, the most effective brands are Proguard and Duramune; the least effective brands are Galaxy, Adenomune, and RM.
Another vaccine which is becoming widely used is that for borreliosis, or Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a tick-born bacterial disease which in dogs causes a form of arthritis. Or at least, it may. Some researchers
call canine Lyme disease "a vaccine in search of a disease", since it is actually unknown whether dogs even get Lyme disease. Dr. Christine Wilford, who is the veterinary columnist for the AKC Gazette,
recently wrote, "In general, the efficacy of Lyme vaccination and the true incidence of the disease itself are still being debated by many specialists... (many of whom) still advise against using the vaccine,
citing the absence of documentation of need and efficacy." Neither Wilford nor Schultz recommend this vaccine.
Corona is a mild intestinal virus which usually causes no noticeable symptoms unless another intestinal infection is present as well. It can often be cultured out of the stool of healthy dogs. Schultz did extensive
studies on coronaviruses, the results of which were just released this month. In his studies he has concluded that corona is not a serious illness and that the vaccine is ineffective. (Schultz, "Emerging
Issues: Vaccination Strategies for Canine Viral Enteritis": 1995.) He recommends against this vaccine, as does Wilford.
Parainfluenza is, by itself, a mild respiratory illness similar to a cold, but when complicated by bacterial infections can lead to pneumonia. The most common bacterial infections are those caused by bordetella,
often erroneously called "kennel cough". Schultz recommends that while an injection is frequently used to vaccinate for these diseases, a nasally-administered combination of parainfluenza and bordetella
should instead be given at six to eight weeks and again at 14 to 16 weeks, with annual nasal boosters of the bordetella alone for dogs at high risk of contracting the disease (show dogs, dogs in boarding kennels,
etc.) The parainfluenza vaccine, like those for parvo, distemper, and hepatitis, should provide longer term immunity, probably lifelong. Bordetella, like all bacterial vaccines, requires more frequent
What You Can Do
The average pet owner can become a smart consumer. Don't just blindly buy whatever vaccines the clinic or veterinarian is selling. Ask how severe and how prevalent in your area are the diseases for
which vaccinations are being suggested. What about the effectiveness of the vaccine, and its side effects? If a disease is both not serious and not prevalent, it may be better not to vaccinate against it,
particularly if the vaccine is either ineffective or dangerous, or both. Ask your veterinarian to customize your pets' immunizations in light of new information on safety and efficacy, and to update the immunization
program as new research is done. Remember: when it comes to health care decisions, one size really never fits all.
Copyright 1998 by Christie Keith. Used with permission. All rights reserved.