Responding to Questions About Annual Shots

I am excited that our last article elicited such response. Vaccination is a very controversial subject, and I appreciate all of the opinions expressed. With all of the opinions in our community, I knew that there would be a heated response no matter what I said. I would like to take this chance to respond to some of the readers who sent emails.

“I was wondering why you did not mention the Bordetella vaccine. If she brings her dogs to a groomer, dog day care, dog park or boarding facility, they should have this vaccine, especially if they are older because they would be more at risk.” – A. Gros

When I wrote that you need to discuss the “non-core” vaccines with your vet, I did fail to mention the Bordetella vaccine. Bordetella is a vaccine that your vet should help you evaluate, considering the specific risks and benefits based on your dog’s lifestyle. Many grooming salons and kennels do require this vaccine, so you should also be sure that you know when it is required. Thank you for mentioning my omission.

“I just wanted to share this with them if I may thru you. I got pet insurance for my pets. They have different plans, and some of the plans cover some or all of the annual/vaccines. It’s like a well dog check, so to speak. That might be beneficial to this couple. I hope you can forward this e-mail to them.” – D. Day

Thank you for sharing this information!

“I read your column first!  I always enjoy it.  I was surprised and delighted when Cesar brought you into the monthly newsletter. What do you have to say about Bordetella?  I run a boarding kennel  (dogs, no cats) and we have found it difficult to explain this one to  people, because veterinarians often skim past this one when they are  talking about vaccines, even though they talk about seemingly everything else.

I get a lot of calls from people on this subject, and I would like to always refer their questions to their veterinarian, but conflicting information causes such confusion in people. I tell them that you might get different opinions from two different  veterinarians in the same clinic, so they should do their homework, consult the AVMA and AAHA sites for their current protocols, and discuss with their veterinarians the reasons behind their recommendations, but that ultimately, it is YOUR dog,  and the ultimate responsibility falls on the human companion.” – S. Sabatini

In a boarding kennel, kennel cough is one of the most common contagious diseases you face, so vaccination is important to the dogs in your care. For dogs visiting a groomer, it is more debatable as the risk is slightly less. The vaccine is a live virus and can cause a mild form of the disease, so there are reasons to discuss the pros and cons of the vaccine for your dog with your vet. Yes, the vaccine recommendations have gotten complex in recent years, and the only answer is to find a vet that you trust and follow their recommendations. As you said, just as we must choose which vaccines to give our human children, the dog parent must gather information to make the best decision they can for their canine child.

“There has been quite a bit of talk that dogs do not need to be vaccinated annually.  Once they reach two years old and have had all the puppy/adult shots for that time period, I have read they can be vaccinated two to three years apart.  What is your take on this?” – J. Marcus

I am still a believer in following the protocols laid out by the vaccine companies. Three year recommendations are becoming more popular, but I have seen individuals who possibly did not have protection that long with older vaccines. There are now vaccines for distemper and parvo (and even rabies in some states) that are tested and labeled for three year use. These are the vaccines I give to my own healthy dog and most of my patients.

“It seems you really skirted the issue of the need for annual vaccines, since many vets are now saying vaccines may be needed only every three years and annual vaccines may even be toxic to small pets.” – J. Rambo

Regardless of the dog’s size, there is a huge controversy around the frequency of vaccines. Studies disagree whether vaccines do induce many of these illnesses, but I believe I have seen immune mediated problems initiated by vaccines in my patients, and any of my patients who have immune mediated diseases get titers done for the rest of their lives. As I said in the article, every owner should discuss their individual risk factors with their vet. Vaccines have saved many more lives than they have ended, but as in all things, there is a balance to be established. Before the introduction of three-year vaccines, I recommended titers to most of my patients. Unfortunately they are much more expensive than the vaccines, so many people choose vaccines despite the risk. I have to say that distemper is more likely to kill a dog than immune problems, so if a client refuses titers, I do feel the need to protect them. The three-year vaccine has helped some with that, but I still do recommend titers to many individuals. (As I said in the article, rabies titers are a little more controversial, because they provide little to no legal protection). I truly don’t intend to skirt the issue, but the truth is that nobody knows with absolute certainty what the truth is. If money is not a concern, I believe that titers are still the way to go after the initial puppy series and possibly a one-year booster. This is what I do for my fifteen-year-old dog. However, to show you all sides of the issue, there are specialists who feel that titers are not truly indicative of protection and should not be trusted.

“…If you deny that there is a financial incentive to pretend annual vaccinations are necessary, you need to get out in the real world. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in your response to the question asked about annual vaccinations in Cesar’s monthly newsletter.  You are devastatingly wrong. I have lost respect for Cesar and certainly you for these antiquated and profit-driven opinions you profess.” – D. Stricker

As far as the financial incentive to vets to continue yearly vaccines: if you feel that your vet’s preventative health protocol is motivated by money, then you should find a vet with whom you feel more confident. My intent in the article was to share my belief that vaccines are only a small part of a lifetime preventative health program. In my practice, vaccines are so inexpensive that there is no financial advantage to me in giving them. We are more interested in care for the whole dog, and there are no cookie cutter answers.

Thank you for encouraging me to delve more into the controversy that is vaccines!

-Dr. Weaver

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