A part of any wellness program for dogs should include vaccination against serious life-threatening diseases. But do we need to vaccinate dogs yearly or even every three years? Do all dogs need to be vaccinated for less serious contagious diseases? Does every dog need the same vaccines? A few short years ago most veterinarians would have answered yes to these questions. Now, the answer has become cloudy and many veterinarians, like myself, are questioning the present recommended vaccination programs.
What vaccines are essential or core for dogs?
There are 4 viral diseases that are serious and can cause death for dogs:
Vaccination for these diseases is considered core for protecting your dog. But after the puppy series how often should these core vaccines be given? The truth is that after all of these years of vaccinating, there is no information available about the length of protection after vaccination. Companies that produce vaccines are not required to provide data indicating how long immunity from the disease will last after vaccination. They are only required to report protective blood antibodies for the time period they indicate in their FDA application for vaccine approval. For most vaccines, that time period is one year.
Rabies vaccine is the only one that has routinely been tested over the years for protective immunity. Evidence has proven that after 3 years, dogs are more susceptible to infection. That is the basis for 3-year requirement for rabies vaccination in the 39 states where rabies vaccine is required for dogs. For other vaccines, there is no solid scientific information about the length of protective immunity.
Dr. Ronald Schultz, a professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been studying vaccine immunity in dogs and cats for over 30 years. Rather than routinely vaccinate he has been yearly testing his own and other dogs for protective antibodies in their blood from vaccines. For core vaccines, he has found some dogs retain immunity for life.
What about non-essential vaccines?
Many vaccines that dogs receive are targeted for diseases in limited geographical areas, specific to a dog’s lifestyle or diseases that aren’t very serious. Vaccines for Lyme’s disease (caused by tick bites) and Leptospirosis (hunting dogs exposed to contaminated water) have short periods of protective immunity (months to 1 year) but often are associated with serious vaccination reactions.
Most dogs are not likely to be exposed to these diseases so the vaccine risk is far greater than potential health benefits. Bordetella or “kennel cough” vaccine also has limited protection (0-6 months depending on subcutaneous, oral, or nasal administration). Kennel cough is typically no more serious than our own colds so vaccinating dogs that are not being boarded, go to groomers, or frequent “doggie daycare” do not need to be vaccinated against this condition.
Dr. Schultz advises that a dog’s risk of disease is important for deciding if vaccination is necessary:
"Vaccines have many exceptional benefits, but, like any drug, they also have the potential to cause significant harm. Giving a vaccine that's not needed creates an unnecessary risk to the animal.”
THE WELL DOG PLACE Recommendations for Vaccines: