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Vaccination Decision

In general, I follow the American Animal Hospital Association’s Canine Vaccine Guidelines. That means, I only vaccinate my adult dogs every 3 years (not every year). Since it’s required in our county by law, that means a 3-year rabies vaccination. I also do not do annual boosters for some of the others, like that combo one many dogs get for distemper, etc. because I once interviewed the top canine infectious disease expert in the country, and he told me that many such vaccines have MUCH LONGER duration of immunity that we’ve been led to believe. I absolutely want to protect my dogs, and those who know me know that I’m a predictable follower of rules. But, I had some serious reservations about getting Lilly vaccinated since she’s due in early 2009.

I didn’t write about it, but I’ve been talking to friends for months now about Lilly and vaccinations because here’s the thing:

Many of Lilly’s behavior issues worsened after her last round of boosters.

People with an anti-vaccine orientation tell me it’s a result of vaccinosis (a bad reaction to vaccines). The holistic vet we saw for a while in our pre-drug quest for behavior help said I should NEVER vaccinate Lilly again and that he’d write a letter to the local government to get me a waiver.

Indeed, Lilly did get a extra shots (“just in case”) when she was a pup because our veterinarian was worried that the ones she got at the shelter didn’t “take” since it turns out she was already sick with parvo. After she recovered, therefore, more shots … which made her feel ooky. And, indeed, she did have another reaction — large swollen lump, fever, lethargy — after her last round of adult shots.

Let’s be clear … I’m personally NOT saying that there is a link between what and who Lilly is and the vaccines. I cannot tell you there is a cause and effect, but I can say honestly that the shots and her behavior changes happened in close succession.

So, it was a real dilemma for me. Do I vaccinate? Do I do titer testing and try to get a legal waiver?

When I’ve asked about titer testing in the past, however, our regular veterinary practice has quipped, “It’s cheaper to vaccinate.”

Well, yes it is … but is that the point?

(Me thinks I need a new doc … but
finding one I can really partner with who is relatively close to our
somewhat remote location seems impossible.)


After much consideration, I went ahead last week and had Lilly vaccinated for Rabies (3-year). She seems perfectly fine, perfectly normal (for her).

Ginko is due soon too, so we’ll need to get him done so that we can renew our county dog licenses. They require PROOF of rabies, but not the others.

I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do about the other vaccinations. I guess I need to read up again about which ones she really might need.

BUT, for this round, I wanted to only give ONE at a time and wait several weeks for her body to do that immunity thing before we gave any others. Because, we can’t really tell which one causes the reaction, if we give them all at once.

Am I the only one who struggles with such routine things?

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

KB - January 29, 2009

You are not the only one who struggles over these routine things. In fact, now that you mention it, my young dog R, got clostridium about a week after getting the basic vaccines for a 1 yr old dog. I wonder if his system was stressed by the vaccines and became susceptible to clostridium.

My vet is very minimalist in her approach to vaccines. For each dog, we talk through which vaccines to give which not to. We generally do the ones for the most likely and serious diseases but not the others (every 3 yrs after 1 yr old). One of my dogs actually got leptospirosis (the ‘L’ in DHLPP – and yes he was vaccinated but DHLPP includes some strains of L but not others) – so I know firsthand that we want to avoid those super serious diseases.

When our dogs get old, our vet gives them no vaccines. Apparently studies are showing that their lifetime of previous vaccines probably continues to protect them. Also, my vet wants to avoid the risk of other opportunistic infections/cancers taking off while their immune systems are ‘busy’ dealing with the vaccines.

Elayne - January 29, 2009

I stopped vaccinating Cody and Lola for parvo/distemper a year or two ago after Cody had a terrible reaction to a vaccine. Not sure if it was to the rabies or distempter/parvo since they were given at the same time but he’s since had rabies and not had a reaction. At 8 and 10 years old I’m not sure the risk is worth it.

That said I do know someone who’s 7-8 year old dog nearly died of parvo (or was it distemper?). Not sure if the dog was vaccinated. I also heard a vet talking about treating a 10 year old dog for either parvo or distemper as well. Again, not sure if the dog was vaccinated.

It’s a tough call but since I know Cody has had a bad reaction and I also had a cat who had a bizarre, bad reaction I’m wary of vaccinating especially as the dogs get older.

Holly - January 29, 2009

I have often wondered if I should vaccinate every year or find an alternate route. If I even mentioned this notion to my vet, I can imagine his reaction (not good). One year my border collie had a large lump on his shoulder where a vaccine had been given. The vet wrote it off as an infected hair or irritation & indeed, it did go down with antibiotics. Other than that, my dogs have had no adverse reactions to vaccines and I have vaccinated them yearly.
I guess my only motivation for doing so is because I volunteer at the local shelters and work with animals at my job, so I am constantly surrounded by animals who may or may not be ill.
My dogs have seen the same vet since I adopted them a few years ago and before that we took our first dog to this vet. It is a perfectly nice office, but sometimes I feel I’m being sold a bill of goods. Being charged for silly things (I’m suprised I am not charged for the treats they get in the exam rooms!) and being pressured into buying a certain brand of heartworm prevenative (which I later returned for our usual brand, Interceptor).
Alas, there is no rest for the weary dog parent!

dog-geek - January 29, 2009

We’ve had all our dogs vaccinated against rabies every three years as required by law, but Z hasn’t been vaccinated for anything else in 7 years. Since we had such a terrible time getting his allergies under control, I didn’t want to take a chance pumping a bunch of adjuvants into him. We’ve done titers instead, and they’ve come back fine every time. Also, once S turned 10, my vet recommended not vaccinating for anything except rabies – he didn’t think that there would be any additional benefits to re-vaccinating against everything else at that age, so the risks would begin to outweigh the benefits. L was re-vaccinated for everything in 2008 and is not due for anything now until 2011, so I’ll make a decision at that point, but I’ll most likely go with titers for everything but rabies with him from here on out, also.

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