VACCINES: RISKS vs BENEFITS

There are many opinions on vaccinating puppies and dogs.
Take a look and see a few of the most recent theories on the subject.

Are we doing too much too soon?
Never give a stressed or sick dog a vaccination. If your dog is suffering from allergies or fleas, or has skin problems, she is not in optimum health. Stress is also a factor to consider. If she has gone through an emotional trauma, for instance, a change of homes, new member in the family, give her a while to get adjusted to the new routine before getting vaccinations. Vaccine manufacturers recommend that only healthy dogs be vaccinated.

Keep in mind that taking a young puppy to the vet for shots could weaken its immune system for life, because his system was not fully developed, and he will no doubt be emotionally stressed, due to being recently weaned, and taken away from mother and littermates, placed with a stranger, into an unfamiliar environment. The last thing this poor pup needs added to all of those stressors is a "cocktail" vaccine.

High levels of stress can trigger autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, haemolytic lupus, and various skin diseases. In autoimmune diseases the immune system becomes confused and attacks the body.

In high stress situations the "fight or flight" instinct kicks in and shuts off the immune system. Imagine if she has just been stressed out of her mind with the car ride, her immune system is now shut down, she gets her "cocktail" vaccine of DHLPP and possibly even her rabies booster, gets back into the car, gets home, rolls on the grass treated with herbicides, pesticides, takes a drink of her water containing chlorides and  fluorides, grabs a mouthful of cheap, over-processed, commercial, dog food full of preservatives, BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin, dyes, by-products, including beaks and feathers, meat meal, possibly even containing road kill! This type of stress is common in today's dog and in most cases the stage has been set for kidney, liver, heart disease, as well as arthritis and cancer.

The following statement is by Dr. Richard Ford, one of the nationís leading
experts on infectious diseases and vaccines.

     Dr. Ford confirmed that we may in fact be over vaccinating our dogs, and that just because a vaccine exists, you need not necessarily request that your dogs receive it. With the exception of Rabies vaccination, which is required by law, the decision to request a particular vaccine for your dog should be based on your dogís likely exposure to, or risk from, the disease.

     Important diseases to vaccinate all dogs for are Rabies, Distemper, Hepatitis (the vaccine is Adenovirus
Type 2), Parainfluenza, Parvovirus, and Bordetella. Vaccines that MAY be important, depending upon where
you live and local concerns are Lyme Disease and Leptospirosis. Vaccines you should probably not even
consider, except on specific recommendations from your veterinarian, are Coronavirus and Giardia.

Less frequent vaccination
     We have recently learned that some vaccines may protect your dog for longer than we thought. Examples of
these are canine Distemper and Parvovirus. After a dog receives his series of puppy innoculations, only dogs
that are at high risk need to receive annual boosters. Others may do fine with less frequent boosters of these
"long lasting" vaccines.

When should puppies be vaccinated?
     The length and timing of the window of susceptibility is different in every litter, and even between individuals in a litter. A study of a cross section of different puppies showed that the age at which they were able to respond to a vaccine and develop protection (become immunized) covered a wide period of time. At six weeks of age, 25% of the puppies could be immunized. At 9 weeks of age, 40% of the puppies were able to respond to the vaccine. The number increased to 60% by 16 weeks of age, and by 18 weeks, 95% of the puppies could be immunized.

Veterinarians rethink vaccination schedules
Research indicates that annual shots could trigger other problems in cats and dogs.

     The need for annual vaccinations for cats and dogs is being questioned in veterinary research circles, and some Inland Valley veterinarians have already changed procedures for cats and may also do so for dogs.

     The issue was highlighted nationally by a recent Wall Street Journal article that cited studies at several universities suggesting that "protection from vaccines may last for years, which would make annual shots for some diseases a waste of money -- at the very least." "Evidence is building," the Journal article said, "that annual vaccination of dogs and cats -- performed for diseases such as rabies, distemper and parvovirus -- may not be necessary and could even be harmful." The veterinary community has been aware of the concerns about annual vaccinations for at least the last five years, Weigand said.

     For dogs, there is speculation that the frequency of vaccinations and subsequent buildup of antibodies can trigger an autoimmune disease such as lupus, where a dog's own antibodies attack its cells instead of only the viral invaders. "There's no real evidence to show the necessity of giving annual vaccinations -- it's more out of tradition," said Dr. Phillip Kass, a veterinarian and an associate professor at UC Davis who is researching vaccinations and their effects on dogs.

     The American Veterinary Medical Assn., in a policy statement last year, acknowledged that the practice of annual vaccinations is based on "historical precedent" and "not on scientific data."

     Pet vaccinations will be one of the first subjects in preventive medicine classes when Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona enrolls its first class of veterinary students. Dr. Shirley Johnston, dean of the veterinary school, said students will have the benefit of current research findings on the subject.

     While the frequency of vaccinations is an open question, pet owners concerned about the matter can have their veterinarians check their pet's immunity to certain diseases, the Journal article pointed out. A new 15-minute blood test, TiterChek, examines a dog's protection against two life-threatening diseases: canine parvovirus and distemper.

Vaccinating too much?

Q.My friend told me that I should not be vaccinating my dog every year. Whatís up with vaccinations? Is it safe not to vaccinate every year? What should I do?   Charley

A. Your friend may be right, at least, for some vaccines. There are two things have been ingrained in the teaching of veterinarians for years: 1) dogs should eat dog food and 2) dogs and cats should be vaccinated yearly for every disease imaginable. There is actually a lack of scientific evidence to support the current practice of annual vaccination and  increasing documentation showing that over-vaccinating has been associated with harmful side effects.

While vaccinations is one of the 20th centuryís greatest advances in medicine, saving thousands of lives by preventing childhood infectious disease, there is mounting evidence that these vaccinations may play a role in the increasing incidence of autoimmune diseases and even the cancers that we see today. Prime examples are the association of autoimmune hemolytic anemia with vaccination in dogs and vaccine-associated sarcomas in cats -- both of which are often fatal.

Except for rabies vaccine, the yearly revaccination recommendation on vaccine labels is only a recommendation without supporting data of long-term immune studies. It is not a legal requirement. Only rabies vaccines have required duration, immunity studies that must be carried out before they can be licensed in the United States. Even with rabies vaccines, a three-year duration of immunity product may also be labeled and sold as a one-year product. Legally, rabies vaccination is required in  many areas and the accepted duration of immunity varies greatly. Working with local governments to achieve reasonable vaccination schedules for rabies is the only way to change this. On the other hand, your veterinarian can provide documentation to bypass this legal requirement, if vaccinating your pet could be medically unsafe.

Unfortunately, no one knows the real need for vaccination, but yearly boosters for all infectious diseases are overkill. Clearly, in many cases, the vaccinations are not necessary and giving them may cause problems. The risk of not giving vaccinations (once the healthy young dog has been adequately immunized) is becoming less than the risk of giving them. What appears to be the prevailing view is that dogs and cats should  receive their puppy and kitten series against the major canine and feline diseases. These vaccinations should be repeated at 1 year of age. After that time, only necessary vaccines should be given.

Your local veterinarian is your best resource to develop a vaccination program tailored for your pet. The health status and infectious disease risks of your pet should be considered in the selection of a vaccination program. Infectious disease risk may with differing localities. In addition, recent studies clearly indicate that not all vaccines perform equally.

Once puppihood is over, further parvovirus vaccination is probably unwarranted. The disease in adults is mild and self-limiting. Intranasal vaccination for bordetella may provide life-long immunity (although more frequent intranasal vaccination may not carry the same risk as injected vaccines). In areas where Lyme's disease or leptospirosis are not prevalent, vaccination for these agents seems unnecessary. On the other hand, vaccination for canine distemper and canine hepatitis virus is probably warranted at some time while the animal ages.

No one wants their pet to contract a preventable disease, yet most healthy animals do not need vaccination as often as is currently practiced. Immunodeficient animals may not respond adequately regardless of the vaccination schedule. Discuss these options with your veterinarian and make an informed choice about vaccination. Hopefully, your veterinarian  will have thought and struggled with these issues and be able to support your decision about your pet's health.

Remember: Just because you pet does not need yearly vaccinations, they should still have a yearly check-up by your veterinarian!

Dr. Roger Clemmons

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