A-Z of dog wellbeing: Vaccinations

Dog receiving injectionVaccination plays a central role in protecting dogs from major canine infectious diseases. These include viral and bacterial diseases, which can cause significant illness and are difficult to treat.

Only you and your dog’s vet can decide what vaccinations are necessary for your dog, but it pays to educate yourself to know what the risks and side effects are, what the correct vaccination schedules should be for your dog, not what your vet’s ‘pet loyalty club’ determines is suitable.

The benefits of vaccination

Vaccinations are designed to protect your dog against an array of illnesses. Vaccinations work by injecting your dog with a small amount of infectious organisms. The organisms are placed under your dog’s skin, and as your dog’s immune system recognises them as foreign bodies, it begins to fight them. After being exposed to a specific infectious agent, your dog’s body will be able to identify these agents and release antibodies more quickly in the future.

Dr Jean Dodds is a world-renowned vet who has spent many years studying the effects of vaccines and offers the following advice:

  • Modern vaccine technology has afforded effective protection of companion animals against serious infectious diseases.
  • But this advancement brings an increased risk of adverse reactions (vaccinosis).
  • Some are serious, chronically debilitating and even fatal.
  • We MUST balance this benefit/risk equation = more benefit than risk.

Dr.  Ron Schultz, a veterinary immunologist at the forefront of vaccine research adds:

“Be wise and immunise, but immunise wisely!”

The risks of vaccination

Dog vaccinations can often be just as harmful as the disease they’re meant to protect against.

Giving adult boosters more often will NOT increase amount of protection however it can introduce unnecessary antigens, fillers and stabilisers, and increases risk  of adverse events (vaccinosis).

Vaccinations can cause a wide range of health problems that range from minor fever to anaphylactic shock and cancer. So it’s vital that we vaccinate our pets only when necessary. These reactions can and do happen every day. As pet parents, we need to balance the protection of our dogs against parvo and distemper, but also from cancer, allergies and autoimmune disease that over-vaccination may trigger.

So the idea is to give AS FEW VACCINES AS NECESSARY.

Over 20 years ago, a very important research piece was published. Veterinary immunologist, Dr Ronald Schultz studied every major vaccine in over a thousand dogs … and every study he completed delivered the same conclusion, every time:

“Vaccines for diseases like distemper and parvovirus, once administered to adult animals, provide lifetime immunity.”

So in 2003, the re-vaccination guidelines were changed from annual to a three year vaccine schedule, however these are not mandated.

This means vets can ignore the research and safety and vaccinate whenever they feel like it, with almost 60% of vets still over-vaccinating by offering annual boosters.

This may be just habit or lack of education, however vaccines can provide around 14% of the income from an average practice, so their motivations to jab your dog every year may be more financially motivated than you might hope.

The core UK vaccines

The BSAVA (British Small Animal Veterinary Association) summarise the three core canine vaccines that make the up the DHP injection(s) which all puppies in the UK should get, however it gets interesting when we look at boosters and when they should be given:

Distemper Virus (CDV)

A highly contagious and potentially fatal virus which is closely related to the human measles virus. It has an 80-90% mortality rate and no effective treatment.

BSAVA guidelines: After primary vaccination in puppies between the ages of 6 and 12 weeks, recommended re-vaccination schedules for dogs range from 1-3 years. With some UK vaccines, if used as recommended, there is no requirement to re-vaccinate dogs at twelve months of age. This vaccine is NOT required annually.

Dr Schultz advises that the minimum duration of immunity for distemper is 7 years by challenge (titre test) and 15 years by serology (blood serum test).

Hepatitis / Canine Adenovirus (CAV)

Infectious Canine Hepatitis is a viral infection of the liver caused by the canine adenovirus, and is  associated with a fever, congestion of the mucous membranes and respiratory disease.

BSAVA guidelines: After primary vaccination in puppies between the ages of 8 and 12 weeks, recommended re-vaccination schedules for dogs range from 1-3 years. With some UK vaccines, if used as recommended, there is no requirement to re-vaccinate dogs at twelve months of age. This vaccine is NOT required annually.

Dr Schultz advises that the minimum duration of immunity for distemper is 7 years by challenge (titre test) and 9 years by serology (blood serum test).

Parvovirus (CPV)

A highly infectious disease that is transmitted by direct contact with infected dogs or indirectly through faecal contamination. The virus can survive in the environment for many months so transmission does not necessarily require close contact between dogs and may be spread by transfer on clothing or other objects.

BSAVA guidelines: After primary vaccination in puppies between the ages of 6 and 12 weeks, recommended re-vaccination schedules for dogs range from 1-3 years. With some UK vaccines, if used as recommended, there is no requirement to re-vaccinate dogs at twelve months of age.  This vaccine is NOT required annually.

Dr Schultz advises that the minimum duration of immunity for distemper is 7 years by challenge (titre test) and 7 years by serology (blood serum test).

Sources:
World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Guidelines for the vaccination of cats and dogs 2015
Dr Ron Schultz, Minimum duration of vaccine immunity: Lifelong Immunity – Why Vets Are Pushing Back.

Acronyms of vaccinations

Here is a quick reference guide to the common terms used so you know what’s included:

  • DHP – Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus (the core 3 UK vaccines)
  • DHPPi – Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus, & para-influenza
  • DHPPi/L – Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, para-influenza & Leptospirosis 2/4
  • L2/L4 – Leptospirosis 2 or 4
  • KC – Kennel cough

Testing for DHP immunity

A simple blood test, called a titre (or titer in America), can tell if your dog has sufficient immunity or whether they actually need a booster vaccine. These are very cost-effective as many vets also include the cost of the vaccination if your results show insufficient immunity.  A titre test every three years is considered quite sufficient to review immunity.

Imagine your dog’s immune system is like an empty bucket.  Once they’ve had their initial DHP vaccinations their bucket is likely to be full of immunity.  If you pour more water into a full bucket it just overflows and there’s no additional benefit.

A titre test is like using a dip-stick  to check how full the bucket  is before you pour more water in.

There are two vets in Swindon who offer the cost-effective in-house VacciCheck titre test which measures antibody levels for Parvovirus, Distemper and Infectious Hepatitis. Other vets offer a blood test but the samples are sent off to a laboratory for testing and so the cost is much higher.  These vets also charge up to £120 for the vaccinations if immunity is low, on top of the lab work fees.

Vet group Titre brand Titre cost Vaccination included if required?
Archway Vets, Highworth VacciCheck £60 Yes
Thameswood Vets VacciCheck £60 Yes
Vet’s Klinic VacciCheck £48 – £65 Yes
Court Vets, Stanford-in-the-Vale Lab test £56.92 No
Drove Vets Lab test £132.94 No
Eastcott Vets Lab test £140 No
Lawn Vets Lab test £211.20 No
Shaw Vets Lab test £160.60 No

Information correct as of December 2019

TiterCHEK is an alternative brand to VacciCheck but it only checks for immunity to Parvovirus and Distemper (not Hepatitis) and isn’t offered in Swindon, but other vets may offer it.

Some vets are lagging behind the science and still prefer to just give the vaccine, but that one vaccine could be the one to cause serious and irreparable damage to your dog.  If your vet doesn’t offer a blood test for immunity, or doesn’t offer the cheaper in-house tests, then gently suggest that they should and use a different vet to get your titre test done.  That’s what I do!

DEMAND = SUPPLY
If more people ask their vets for VacciCheck titre tests, then they will stock them, so please nag your vet if they aren’t already providing them!

Proof of immunity with titre testing

The Pet Plan ‘Covered for Life’ policies for my dogs states:

Vaccinations – your pet must be kept vaccinated against distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and leptospirosis . If not, we will not cover any amount for the illness which has not been vaccinated against.

I checked with them to ensure that they will accept a titre test as proof of immunity for DHP and they have confirmed that they will and have added note to my policy to this effect.  I don’t vaccinate against Lepto as my dogs are low risk, so i’m unlikely to need cover for the illness anyway, so I’m happy with them not being covered for this.

The VacciCheck or laboratory blood results can be shown to your insurance provider, boarding kennels, groomers etc if requested to demonstrate proof of immunity.

Non-core vaccinations

You can’t titre test for these non-core vaccinations, so you need to discuss each one with your vet. They should only be administered to dogs whose geographical location, local environment, or lifestyle place them at higher risk of contracting each of the specific infections:

Leptospirosis

This is a nasty disease caused by bacteria that causes damage to the liver and kidneys and is, sadly, often fatal.  It spreads via other infected dogs, mice, rats and cows and can also be caught from water containing infected urine. Your dog is at higher risk of catching leptospirosis if they regularly kill rodents, live on a farm or spend a lot of time in water. It can infect humans too and we know it as Weil’s disease.

The number after the name (Lepto-2 or Lepto-4) refers to the number of strains the vaccine is designed to protect against (although there are 7 possible strains of which 3 less common ones are not vaccinated against), the vaccine is not considered very effective, does not work for all dogs and only lasts between 8-12 months, so they may not be covered even with annual boosters.

Recently Lepto-4 has been in the news as there have been a high number of reactions to the vaccine, including a significant number of deaths. My own dog suffered an adverse reaction that we believe has triggered autistic traits, so I urge you to ask your vet about their offering.

Of all the vaccines this one causes the most adverse reactions so please talk to your vet about the number of strains their vaccine includes, do your research, and only give the vaccine if your dog’s lifestyle means they are at higher risk of the disease.

Kennel Cough and Flu vaccines

The Canine parainfluenza virus (CPi) and Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough) vaccines do not prevent illness, they reduce the likelihood and severity of the illness. The vaccine makes it more likely that your dog will recover on his own if he gets sick without the need for veterinary intervention.

Kennel cough (equivalent to the human cold) remains a common infectious disease within the UK and whilst rarely fatal, it can have welfare consequences in the more vulnerable animal and may cause distress to dogs and their owners.

The Bordetella bronchiseptica and Canine parainfluenza vaccination should be considered for dogs that will be in close indoor proximity to lots of other dogs (i.e. in kennels, daycare or at dog shows). Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dog breeds are at an increased risk of developing respiratory disease from colds but are not necessarily at higher risk of catching kennel cough than other breeds because their narrow noses and trachea and thickened tissue in their mouth make them more likely to develop an infection if they are exposed to the bacteria or viruses.

Talk to your vet about the necessity, risks and benefits of these vaccines and only give them if your dog’s lifestyle means they are at higher risk of the disease.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a chronic, multi-systemic, inflammatory disorder which can be transmitted to both humans and dogs following a bite from a tick infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria.

The vaccine should only be given to dogs with a known high risk of exposure or where the disease is endemic.  The best prevention is to avoid high risk areas: woodland, moorland, rough pasture and parks where deer are present are prime habitats for ticks.

While you can chemically reduce the likelihood of a tick bites with insecticide spot-on treatments such as Frontline, Advantage and Advocate which your vet may recommend monthly, these chemicals are causing adverse reactions in many pets and I prefer to avoid them completely.

I choose to use a herbal flea and tick preventer called ‘Billy No-Mates’ which has been almost 100% effective for the last seven years, with only one tick on one of my two dogs in that time.

Talk to your vet about the necessity, risks and benefits of this vaccines, use natural rather than insecticide repellents and only give the vaccine if your dog’s lifestyle means they are at higher risk of the disease.

Key points to consider

I WOULD…

  • Not over-vaccinate my dog! Over-vaccination is not only a waste of money for animal guardians but may jeopardize the long-term health of our animal companions. Most vaccinations contain unhealthy levels of mercury, aluminium and other heavy metals, and allergic reactions, autoimmune conditions, cancers and neurological diseases have all been seen in recently vaccinated pets.
  • Only vaccinate a healthy dog. Never vaccinate a pet who is ill with ANY symptoms, including skin allergies, ear infections, digestive upsets, or hormonal, surgical or emotional stresses, including at the time of any surgery, dentistry or while boarding.
  • Avoid unnecessary non-core vaccinations such as Lyme, Bordetella, and Leptospirosis, which have questionable safety and low efficacy.
  • Cancel the ‘Puppy package’ or ‘Loyalty scheme’ that you may have opted in to at your vets that signs you up for annual boosters and avoidable flea/worm applications (see my next blog for more details). It may be an unnecessary overspend, so just pay for annual check-ups and use herbal flea/worm treatments instead.
  • Detox after the core vaccines. A Herbal Self-Medication session can help your dog to cope with the stress on their system induced by necessary vaccines, and help to eliminate the heavy metals that the vaccines introduce into their bodies, reducing possible side effects and helping them get back into homeostasis.
  • Report any adverse reactions.  If your dog ever experiences an adverse reaction after a vaccine then please report it via the Gov.UK website to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

The choice is simple really… You can choose to allow your vet to over-vaccinate your dog or you can choose to protect him from unnecessary risk and ask for a titre test instead.